For years, we’ve seen a link between faith and happiness. New data is showing there might be a connection between religious upbringing and academic performance, too.
In her new book, “God, Grades, and Graduation: Religion’s Surprising Impact on Academic Success,” author Ilana Horwitz, an assistant professor in the Department of Jewish Studies at Tulane University, explained to Deseret News that believing God is watching over you — particularly for children — incentivizes “conscientious, cooperative” behavior.
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That tidbit makes some sense of Horwitz’s recently published research, which shows teens who are “intensely” committed to their faith “are more likely than average to earn higher GPAs and complete more college education.”
The professor characterizes “intensely religious” people as those who “see religion as very important, attend religious services at least once a week, pray at least once a day, and believe in God with absolute certainty.” For the purpose of her research, Horwitz consulted numerous studies and concluded roughly one-quarter of American teenagers fit that description.
Horwitz classifies those American teens as “abiders.” After analyzing data collected by the National Study of Youth and Religion, which periodically surveyed 3,290 teenagers from 2003 until 2012, she concluded that, on average, abiders had a roughly 10% lead over other participants. Not only do they perform better in school, they are also more likely to pursue additional college education, she found.
The tricky part is figuring out why — exactly — that is the case.
A great deal of it, Horwitz posited, is due to the fact teachers are drawn to students who are respectful, rule-following, conscientious, and hardworking — traits often espoused by religious students.
Some of it might also stem from parents who are more deeply involved in their kids’ lives.
“It could be the case that a kid who is really religious is more likely to have parents who sit and do homework with them and be really involved in their school,” Horwitz said.
One potential downside worth mentioning, at least according to Horwitz, is that many especially religious teenagers are risk-averse and, as such, might not take big chances, potentially forfeiting good opportunities.
Abiders, for example, might choose to stay close to home rather than venturing out.
“They are very comfortable in the life they have and nervous about college because they have heard that college is a place where religious beliefs will be questioned and professors are liberal,” she said. “They seek social homogeneity.”
She also noted that, just because a teenager earns high marks in school doesn’t mean it will translate to real-life success and stability.
“You could be really good at ‘doing school’ and knowing how to navigate routines and regulations and rules but that may not prepare you to function in life,” Horwitz said.
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