If you went to Catholic school, you'll probably send your kids to Catholic school too

Author: Olivia Hall

Private Catholic or non-religious private school? Public school or homeschooled? With a variety of schooling options available, how do parents decide where to send their children for high school, and what is the most influential factor in this decision?


Researchers with Cardus Religious Schools Initiative (CRSI) at the University of Notre Dame examined these questions and found that parents in North America are strongly influenced in their school choices by the type of high school from which they themselves graduated. 

CRSI, funded by Cardus, studies school selection and enrollment outcomes in independent religious schools in North America by analyzing existing government and other national surveys.

The recent report, using data from the Cardus Education Survey, reveals that graduates of private religious high schools in the U.S. and Canada are twice as likely to enroll their children in private religious schools than are graduates of public schools.

Similarly, one out of every three parents who were homeschooled during their high school years in the U.S. choose to homeschool their own children, and over 75% of non-religious public school graduates choose secular public education for their own children.

There is variation in parents’ religious attendance rates and household income across school sectors, suggesting that parents are making decisions about schools for their kids based on multiple criteria. For instance, in the U.S.:

  • Parents with children in private non-religious schools tend to have higher income and attend religious services more frequently than parents whose children attend public schools.
  • Parents who homeschool their children tend to have more kids, younger kids, lower income, be older parents, and attend religious services more frequently than public school students’ parents.

Parents who attended private schools likely benefited from the close-knit communities forged in those schools and want to reproduce that type of environment for their children. Further, says Dr. Sara Skiles, project manager of CRSI, “parents support the missional and curricular goals of these schools and choose to invest in them for their children’s education.

The research was led by David Sikkink, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and director of CRSI, and Jonathan Schwarz, post-doctoral research assistant in the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity.

The full research report is available here.


About Cardus

Cardus is a think tank dedicated to the renewal of North American social architecture. It conducts independent and original research, produces several periodicals, and regularly stages events with Senior Fellows and interested constituents across Canada and the U.S. To learn more, visit: www.cardus.ca, and follow us on Twitter@cardusca.


Contact: Olivia Hall, Center for the Study of Religion and Society, ohall2@nd.edu