Church Kids Less Affected by Poverty

October 24, 2007

This is an interesting finding by the academic authors of The Role of Religious and Social Organizations in the Lives of Disadvantaged Youth.

They say:

Overall, we find strong evidence that youth with religiously active parents are less affected later in life by childhood disadvantage than youth whose parents did not frequently attend religious services. These buffering effects of religious organizations are most pronounced when outcomes are measured by high school graduation or non-smoking and when disadvantage is measured by family resources or maternal education, but we also find buffering effects for a number of other outcome-disadvantage pairs. We generally find much weaker buffering effects for other social organizations.

Though this, in itself, is profound, what they said next I thoroughly appreciate.

Our data do not allow us to determine to what extent the buffering effects are driven by religious organizations actively intervening in the lives of disadvantaged youth (through tutoring, mentoring, or financial assistance) as opposed to providing the youth with motivation, values, or attitudes that lead to better outcomes.

The authors ascertain that the data is inconclusive, but my experience tells me that this is a valid conclusion. Coming from a church background, I can tell you that when I was a child and my family was in need I hardly recall any actual help or intervention (barring the odd ‘practicing’ Christian.)

What happened more often was a shunning from the church for those who are “down-and-outers.” It is more likely to be treated as if that person dealing with poverty was being punished by God. This is hardly acceptable behavior.

What I DO reflect on often are the motivating teachings, and the passion and fervor I felt to live a life with purpose. What I DID gain from the church was reliance on God.

How we deal with this apparent dichotomy of wonderful teaching versus poor doing I will leave for the philosophers to resolve.