A University of Iowa study has found teenagers who regularly attend church do better in high school. "We found that adolescents who participate frequently in religious institutions have, on average, a higher grade point average; they’re less likely to drop out of school and they have greater school attachment," says Jennifer Glanville, a U-of-I sociologist who led the study.
"What we mean by school attachment is the degree to which the adolescent feels like they are a part of their school and feels happy to be a part of their school." Glanville says regular attendance at a church, synagogue, mosque or other house of worship has just as much of an impact on a teenager’s grade point average as whether their parents earned a college degree.
"One of the major factors that we found…that explained why youths who attend religious services more frequently are more likely to get better grades and less likely to drop out of school…is because of the relationships with people from different generations that they’re able to form by virtue of belonging to a religious congregation," she says.
According to Glanville, kids not only get to interact with the parents of their friends at church, but their own parents — in turn — get to know the mothers and fathers of their friends. "That sort of parental communication is really important in enforcing norms that are conducive to adolescents doing better in school," Glanville says.
Other studies have found a link between church attendance and high school grades, but Glanville’s study is one of the first to uncover the reasons for that link. "What we focused in on is how religious participation shapes adolescent social networks — both within their generation, with peers and friends, and also to other generations," Glanville says.
Churchgoing teenagers do better not only because they have regular contact with adults who serve as role models, but Glanville says they tend to develop friendships with other kids in church who do well academically and who don’t skip school.
Glanville’s research also found it didn’t matter if kids were attending a Catholic mass, Sunday morning worship at a Protestant church or any other kind of religious service — the benefit of regular attendance of any kind of religious service was the same.
"Religious attendance seems to bring youth into contact with different types of potential friends and also, you know, more intergenerational involvement and that’s really what really matters, not so much the specific content of the religious teachings," she says.
Glanville and two colleagues from the University of Notre Dame reviewed data from a longterm study of kids in seventh through 12th grade. That study began in 1994 and has surveyed students from 132 schools in 80 communities around the country.