Religion, Volunteering, and Educational Setting: The Effect of Youth Schooling Type on Civic Engagement

Author(s): Jonathan P. Hill and Kevin R. den Dulk

Source: Hill, Jonathan P. and Kevin R. den Dulk. 2013. “Religion, Volunteering, and Educational Setting: The Effect of Youth Schooling Type on Civic Engagement.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 52(1): 179-197.


Are private school privatizing? Aren’t religious schools insular and unconcerned with the surrounding community? Not so according to a recent study by Jonathan Hill and Kevin den Dulk. Students who attended Protestant schools were five times more likely than public school students to continue volunteering into early adulthood.

About the Study
Using longitudinal data from the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR), Hill and den Dulk investigate whether the type of school attended has an impact on continued volunteering in early adulthood. The authors consider only those young adults who were active volunteers in their teenage years in their analysis. The authors then consider the effect of schooling type on continued volunteering using bivariate and multivariate regression. Across six models they include robust controls for religion-oriented variables, parental involvement, modeling, and support, amount of volunteering, and several post-graduate variables, including whether employed, in school, or type of school. Also included are standard demographic controls along with controls to measure the institutional opportunities for volunteering and motivation.

Strong and Surprising Finding for Protestant Schools
The results show strong and substantial differences by schooling type, specifically, students who attended Protestant schools were considerably more likely to continue volunteering in early adulthood, as much as five times more likely than public school students. Surprisingly, they found that their suggested mechanisms of access to volunteering opportunities through institutional belonging and social networks and motivation (as measured by identification with pro-social attitudes and sense of efficacy) were not responsible for the continued volunteering. Instead, they suggest that volunteering in Protestant schooling may either lead students to internalize a sense of civic duty which is not accounted for by their measures and/or that the types of volunteering that Protestant students become involved in is long term in nature, involving organizations that keep volunteers engaged in projects through both their teens and young adult years.

Some Limitations to Consider
Due to the study sample and small numbers of students identifying different types of religious and denominational schools, the authors had to collapse all Protestant schools into one category. Protestant schools differ widely, which could influence their outcomes. The dependent variable in the study, a yes/no response to whether the respondent has participated in any organized volunteer activity or community service in the last year, may also be too general and does not provide specific information about the types of activities respondents are participating in. Additionally, in using NSYR data, the authors are defining early adulthood as between the ages of 18 and 23. As students in this age range are very close to the schooling experience, it may be premature to declare success or failure in the area of volunteering. Additionally, it would be useful to know more about the college experience of these students. Are these students more likely to have attended or be attending colleges with an emphasis on service? Are these students attending colleges with strong Greek systems that have service as a component of fraternity and sorority life? The authors do acknowledge that one explanation for this effect may be involvement in volunteer organizations that are successful at keeping students invested and involved in the organization, bridging the high school to college transition.


Keywords: civic engagement, volunteering, secondary education, graduates

Sector: Catholic,  Evangelical Protestant,  Homeschool,  Other Protestant,  Private,  Public

Outcomes: Civil and Political

Date Posted: 2013-12-21