God is good for you: how faith and family boost educational achievement

(Photo: Unsplash/Daiga Ellaby)

An important new study from the US has shown that family and faith make the biggest difference to a person's success in education.

William Jeynes, Professor of Education at California State University, has brought together for the first time the findings of 30 studies looking at the influences on educational achievement in order to discover what has the biggest impact overall.

The answer was unequivocally that it is faith and family that make the difference. In particular, for family, coming from a two-biological-parent family and high levels of parental involvement are the key factors.

Jeynes notes these are interrelated: "When two parents are present, this maximizes the frequency and quality of parental involvement."

For faith, it was regularly attending church (or other place of worship) and defining oneself as a very religious person that had the biggest impact.

Jeynes suggests this is because faith "can give a person a sense of purpose in life and a disciplined lifestyle that supports academic success."

The study revealed that such factors make a bigger difference even than a person's ethnic or socio-economic background. In fact, Jeynes said that "if an African American or Latino student was a person of faith and came from a two-biological-parent family," the gap in their achievement compared to a person of a different background "totally disappeared, even when adjusting for socioeconomic status."

Yet these facts are barely reflected at all in public policy. Instead, there is little to no effort to encourage families to stay together and to promote religion – if anything the reverse, with an apparent hostility to marriage, faith and traditional morality frequently on display among governing elites.

Meanwhile, huge sums of money are spent trying to improve educational attainment in other ways.

Jeynes' study is a timely reminder that marriage, family and faith are not just matters of private belief. They impact on important areas of public policy, such as educational achievement and the welfare of children.

Wise governments will heed such findings, however unwelcome they may be to some, and ensure they are consistently reflected in their priorities.

Dr Will Jones is a Leamington-based writer, a mathematics graduate with a PhD in political philosophy and a diploma in biblical and theological studies. He blogs at www.faith-and-politics.com and is author of Evangelical Social Theology: Past and Present (Grove, 2017). He can be found on Twitter @faithnpolitic