Catholic Schooling, Protestant Schooling, and Religious Commitment in Young Adulthood

Author(s): Jeremy E. Uecker

Source: Uecker, Jeremy E. 2009. “Catholic Schooling, Protestant Schooling, and Religious Commitment in Young Adulthood.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 48(2):353-367.


Does attending a religious school impact one’s future religious participation? While this may be the goal of many religious schools and a hope for many religious school parents, does religious schooling have this desired impact? A recent study by Jeremy Uecker suggests that religious schools do have a positive impact on the religiosity of young adults, showing strong effects for Protestant schools but only weak effects for Catholic schools.

About the Study

Uecker’s article uses two waves of data from Add Health, a national longitudinal study of adolescents, to examine whether or not religious schools influence the religious lives of their students post-graduation. Unlike previous studies, Uecker compares student outcomes based on the type of school attended: Catholic, Protestant or secular.

Religious Schools, Religious Young Adults
When considered together, Uecker found that young adults who attended religious schools are 86% more likely to attend religious services as young adults more frequently than their peers, but when controls for parent religiosity are included, the percentage is reduced by more than half. This means, when religious school students are grouped together, we do see an effect of this education on future likelihood of attendance though it is mitigated by the fact that many of them were raised by religious parents (and this has its own separate effect).

The Catholic Exception
However, Uecker found that when he separated students into Protestant and Catholic groupings, the story grows more complicated. When considered separately, former Catholic school students are only somewhat more likely to attend religious services than their non-religious school peers, but former Protestant students are four times as likely as secular students, net of controls. Similarly, in general students who attended religious schools are more likely to make decisions based on religious beliefs than their secularly schooled peers, but when separated out, former Catholic school students are only modestly more likely than secular students to make decisions based on their faith while Protestant school students are much more likely to bring faith into their decision making. Protestant schoolers are also far more likely than Catholic schoolers to spend time on religious activities inside and outside the home as well as exhibit an increased frequency of prayer and value of spiritual life. Uecker concludes that former Protestant schoolers are more religious on every outcome than former Catholic school students when both are compared to public school students, and that Protestant school environments appear to be “successful agents of religious socialization.”

The Problem with Aggregating “Religious” Schools
These results are useful in two ways. First, they help us to identify a powerful effect of Protestant schools on their graduates when it comes to future attendance, religious decision-making, and participating in religious activities. Secondly, they help us to realize that while many studies treat students who attend faith-based schools as a homogenous group, doing so result in misleading findings. In this particular case, we find that students who attended Catholic schools have much different outcomes than those who attended Protestant schools. If the groups are considered together, the effect of the Protestant schools on future religious behavior of their students looks weaker than it should, while the effect for Catholic schools looks stronger than it should. Based on this particular case, Uecker argues for differentiation between all types of religious schools, including other faith traditions, in future research.

A Few Limitations
The use of Add Health data in this study is limiting as the sample of religious schools includes only four Protestant schools and five Catholic schools, which may not be representative of these types of schools nationally and could affect the quantitative results of the data. More attention could be paid to region and context in future studies and with additional data. More detail on the post-graduate plans of students and whether students attended a religious college would also be informative as this could influence student religiosity in important ways.

Keywords: Religiosity, Religious Commitment, Catholic, Protestant, Religious Socialization

Sector: Catholic,  Evangelical Protestant,  Other Protestant,  Public

Outcomes: Religious and Spiritual

Date Posted: 2013-12-21