Religious Schools, Home Schools, and the Timing of First Marriage and First Birth

Author(s): Jeremy E. Uecker and Jonathan P. Hill

Source: Uecker, Jeremy E., and Jonathan P. Hill. 2014. “Religious Schools, Home Schools, and the Timing of First Marriage and First Birth.” Review of Religious Research online.


Does school setting, particularly religious schooling and homeschooling, influence when young people marry and have children? A new study examines the timing of first marriage and first birth and finds distinct effects for graduates of evangelical Protestant schools, Catholic schools, and home schools.

About the Study
The authors use data from the Cardus Education Study (n=1,496), a nationally representative sample of high school graduates, with an oversample of private school and homeschool graduates. Respondents ranged in age from 24 to 39, allowing the authors to look at specific life outcomes of these graduates. Uecker and Hill examined whether the type of secondary school attended had an effect on the timing of first marriage and timing of first birth. Their models included measures of parental and individual religiosity, educational attainment, and attitudes toward gender roles and cohabitation, and also included controls for age, race/ethnicity, parents’ educational attainment, age at interview, and family structure during high school. They also compare the distribution of first marriage and first birth from each sector.

Uecker and Hill found distinct family formation patterns by religious school sector in comparison to public sector schools. Evangelical Protestant school graduates are more likely to marry and have children earlier than graduates from the public school sector. However, Evangelical Protestant school graduates are not typically marrying in their teen years. Instead, they are more likely than public schoolers to marry between the ages of 21 and 30 and have a first child between the ages of 25-34.  Catholic school graduates follow a different trajectory. They are more likely than public school graduates to marry in their late 20s and early 30s and are more likely than public school graduates to have a first child between the ages of 31-39. While Catholic schools do not foster early marriage and childbirth, they do foster these behaviors later in life, similar to graduates of private, non-religious schools. The home school graduates do not differ from the public school graduates on either outcome.

These results are interesting for several reasons. While religious schooling appears to have an effect on family formation, this effect differs across religious school sectors. The authors suggest that the socialization power of schools during adolescence contribute to these effects. While the reasons behind this are not fully developed in this empirical analysis, it appears that evangelical schools are effectively transmitting a religious tradition and values that place marriage and family as a central aspect of life. In a similar way, as many Catholic high schools place an emphasis on academic achievement and college preparation, the authors suggest that Catholic schools socialize students to delay marriage and family and prioritize higher education and career during their 20s, similar to American Catholic norms. The authors suggest that religious schools have the effect of making students “more” evangelical Protestant or Catholic in their outcomes of first marriage and first birth. Less is known about homeschoolers, but from this analysis, it appears that they do not have similar effects to religious schools.

The authors call for additional study of schooling environments and their effects on life outcomes. While their study uncovered significant differences between these environments, they were not able to demonstrate the specific mechanisms that could be contributing to these differences. Very few data sets follow religious school graduates into adulthood, which perhaps speaks to the dearth of research on this topic. Within the data they did use, they were unable to control for school-level characteristics and point out that each school sector contains many different types of schools. 

Keywords: religious schools, home schools, family formation, marriage timing, fertility timing, religious socialization

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

Outcomes: Cultural Impact,  Family

Date Posted: 2014-04-11