WASHINGTON — Children living with both biological parents or adoptive parents who attend religious services regularly are less likely to exhibit problems at school or at home, a new analysis of national data shows.
The study by psychologist Nicholas Zill, the founder of Child Trends, and statistician Philip Fletcher found that children in such a situation — when compared to children not living with both parents and not attending religious services regularly — are 5.5 times less likely to have repeated a grade and 2.5 less likely to have had their parents contacted by the school because of a conduct or achievement problem.
Additionally, intact families who have regular religious participation (defined as at least weekly or monthly) are less likely to report parental stress and more likely to report a "better parent-child relationship," the analysis, which focused on families with children ages 6-17, says.
The study, co-released by the Family Research Council (FRC) and more than 30 state family councils as part of FRC's Mapping America project, was based on interviews in 2003 with parents of more than 100,000 children and teens by the National Center for Health Statistics for the National Survey of Children's Health.
The data "hold(s) up after controlling for family income and poverty, low parent education levels, and race and ethnicity."
"An intact two-parent family and regular church attendance are each associated with fewer problem behaviors, more positive social development, and fewer parental concerns about the child's learning and achievement," Zill and Fletcher wrote. "Taken together, the two home-environment factors have an additive relationship with child well-being. That is, children who live in an intact family and attend religious services regularly generally come out best on child development measures, while children who do neither come out worst. Children with one factor in their favor, but not the other, fall in between."
The authors said that children in an intact religious family "are more likely to exhibit positive social behavior, including showing respect for teachers and neighbors, getting along with other children, understanding other people's feelings, and trying to resolve conflicts with classmates, family, or friends."
Pat Fagan, the director of FRC's Center for Family and Religion, said the study should impact social policy.
"Social science data continue to demonstrate overwhelmingly that the intact married family that worships weekly is the greatest generator of human goods and social benefits and is the core strength of the United States," he said in a statement. "Policy makers should strongly consider whether their policy proposals give support to such a family structure. Children are not the only beneficiaries but also their parents, families, communities, and all of society."
(EDITOR'S NOTE — Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. The entire report can be read online at www.mappingamericaproject.org.)