Those who regularly attend a place of worship are less likely to commit low level crime or engage in other acts of delinquency, according to new research.
Led by University of Manchester PhD student Mark Littler, the project was based on an analysis of new survey data from over a thousand 18 to 34-year-olds collected last July, as well as 103 in-depth interviews interviews with younger members of the UK's major faiths.
These included Christians - divided into Catholics and Protestants – as well as Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Sheiks.
The survey considered littering, skipping school or work, using illegal drugs, fare dodging, shoplifting, music piracy, property damage, and violence against the person.
Mr Littler said the act of visiting a place of worship "may trigger a significant reduction in the likelihood of involvement in certain types of criminal and delinquent behaviour".
"In line with existing American research, my results suggest that it is the act of mixing with fellow believers that is important, regardless of whether this is via formal worship, involvement in faith-based social activities, or simply through spending time with family and friends who share your faith," he explained.
"The important thing is exposure to people who encourage pro-social behaviours, and can provide sanctions for their breach."
Participants in the study were asked about delinquencies they had engaged in and their levels of participation in the life of their religious community.
Shoplifting, the use of illegal drugs, and music piracy were the activities that demonstrated the most significant reductions relative to increases in worship place attendance.
More serious crimes were too rare for the data to be able to show a significant pattern.
"These results suggest a more positive picture of Britain's religious life than the doom and gloom you might read about it in the newspapers," Mr Littler said.
"But they are not necessarily a blow to the proponents of atheism: religious practice is just one way of gaining exposure to the pro-social behavioural norms that are at the heart of this relationship.
"Other, more secular, activities may equally serve a similar role."
The study was funded by the Bill Hill Charitable Trust and is the first to be published as part of an ongoing project that will see the publication of a second study later in the year, looking at differences between faith groups in the area of religious practice.
Although relatively little study has been done into the relationship between secular activities and pro-social behaviour, Mr Littler said his group had no immediate plans to look into this area.