- Boys and girls who attend private schools are more likely to avoid a non-marital birth and to get and stay married, per a new IFS/AEI report. Tweet This
- Adults who attended Protestant schools are more than twice as likely to be in an intact marriage as those who attended public schools. And they are about 50% less likely than public-school attendees to have non-marital birth. Tweet This
- All schools do their part to put kids on one kind of civic and family path or another, whether they intend to do so or not. Tweet This
Editor's Note: Today, the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies released a new report, The Protestant Family Ethic, by Albert Cheng, Patrick Wolf, Wendy Wang, and W. Bradford Wilcox. Watch a video livestream panel discussion of the report hosted by AEI beginning at 9:00 AM eastern, and read a preview of the report's findings below.
The public debate surrounding the efficacy of private versus public schools tends to revolve around their relative success in boosting test scores, graduation rates, and college admissions. For instance, are private or public schools more successful in giving children a head start when it comes to getting the human capital they need to thrive in today’s economy? This is the kind of question that drives contemporary debates about the value of private versus public education. But there is more to life than excelling at school and work.
For instance, there is the opportunity to be formed into a woman or man of good character, a good citizen, or a good partner and parent. The effects of schooling extend to these other important domains of life. Civic and character formation are key educational priorities, not only for parents who send their children to religious private schools but also for the majority of Americans. According to the 2019 PDK Poll of the American public’s views on schools, nearly three-quarters of adults asserted that civics courses should be required for all students. The 2015 Education Next Poll found that an overwhelming majority of the American public agreed that character education should be emphasized “a lot” in schools. We suspect that parents are also concerned about how well schools form their sons and daughters for a future family life. That is, parents hope that schools maximize their children’s chances of forming a strong family later in life and minimize their chances of forming their own family before they are married or ready to be a parent.
Insofar as they constitute moral communities, all schools do their part to put kids on one kind of civic and family path or another, whether they intend to do so or not. They inculcate students to abide by specific values, norms, practices, and habits as well as situate them within specific peer influences and social networks. In the end, schools form each of their students into a particular kind of person—with one kind of character or another. Different types of schooling influence a variety of character-related outcomes, including the odds that students become enmeshed in the criminal justice system, their level of civic engagement, and the moral obligations they feel towards their neighbors.
Family is no different, with different types of schools putting young people on distinctive paths towards family formation and marital stability. Until now, however, we have known little about how different types of schools are linked to students’ family life as adults. The limited research that exists in this area indicates that religious schooling is associated with higher rates of marriage among young adults, but we know less about how different forms of schooling are related to the risk of divorce in adulthood or to non-marital childbearing throughout one’s life.
In our new report released today, we examine how enrollment in American Catholic, Protestant, secular private, and public schools is associated with different family outcomes later in life. We analyze nationally representative data from the Understanding America Study (UAS) and the National Longitudinal Survey 1997 (NLSY97) to explore the links between adults’ prior schooling and their odds of marrying, divorcing, and having a child outside of marriage.
Men and women who have been educated in a private school tend to be more likely to be married, less likely to have ever divorced, and less likely to have had a child outside of wedlock. Figure 1 (below) displays the proportion of US adults from each school sector who are in intact marriages, have ever divorced, and have ever had a non-marital birth (it does not adjust for background demographic characteristics like race, ethnicity, parental education, age, and gender. Nonetheless, these patterns remain unchanged even when results are adjusted using a regression framework for demographic characteristics). Specifically, we found that:
- Adults who attended Protestant schools are more than twice as likely to be in an intact marriage as those who attended public schools. They are also about 50% less likely than public-school attendees to have a child out of wedlock.
- Among those who have ever married, Protestant-school attendees are about 60% less likely than public-school attendees to have ever divorced.
- Compared with public-school attendees, ever-married adults who attended a secular private school are about 60% less likely to have ever divorced.
- Catholic-school attendees are about 30% less likely to have had a child out of wedlock than those who attended public schools.
The results suggest that boys and girls who attend private schools are more likely to avoid a nonmarital birth and to get and stay married. This pattern is especially pronounced among Protestant-school attendees, which suggests that these schools are more likely to foster a kind of “Protestant Family Ethic” among their students. This is an ethic that seems especially conducive to strong and stable families.
Read the full report, The Protestant Family Ethic, here.