The Religious School Advantage: Creating Generous Citizens

Author: Olivia Hall

Religiously based U.S. high schools are proving to be especially good at turning out graduates who become civic-minded adults, finds a new study by researchers with Cardus Religious Schools Initiative (CRSI) at the University of Notre Dame. CRSI, which studies school selection and enrollment outcomes in independent religious schools, is funded by Cardus, an independent, North American think tank.

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Catholic school graduates are over 50 percent more likely than public school graduates to volunteer for organizations that fight poverty, according to data in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics – the world’s longest active panel study of households and family. The same data show graduates of Evangelical Protestant and other non-Catholic religious schools are about 40 percent more likely to volunteer in general as adults than their public school counterparts are.

“Graduates of Catholic high schools seem to reflect the approach of Catholic social teaching, which emphasizes the importance of relieving poverty, among other priorities, like providing health care and education,” said Dr. Beth Green, Program Director for Cardus Education. “And it’s not surprising to see these results among evangelical graduates whose religious culture values putting others before self and sacrificing for the common good.”

The study also found a difference in charitable giving. Even after accounting for differences in socio-economic status, American graduates of Catholic as well as Evangelical or other non-Catholic religious schools are more likely than public school graduates to make charitable donations. In terms of the amounts donated, graduates of Evangelical Protestant and other non-Catholic religious schools annually give on average $1,273 more than public school graduates do to charitable causes.

The study, The Lasting Impact of High School on Giving and Volunteering in the U.S.,  was authored by Dr. David Sikkink, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and director of CRSI, and Dr. Jonathan Schwarz, postdoctoral research assistant with CRSI in the Center for the Study of Religion and Society.

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: and follow us on Twitter @cardusca.

About the Cardus Religious Schools Initiative

The Cardus Religious Schools Initiative (CRSI) seeks to generate new theoretical and empirical tools for understanding religious schools. CRSI conducts research which aims to appreciate the uniqueness of religious schools' mission and organization, to reveal the extent that religious schools improve outcomes for students, families, churches, and communities, and to show the links between school mission and organization and student and family outcomes.


Contact: Olivia Hall, Cardus Religious Schools Initiative,