Teenagers who believe in God are likely to get better exam results than those who don't, a major study has found.
Children aged 14 who say that faith is important in their lives typically go on to pass more GCSEs than non-believing pupils.
The difference amounts to more than a third of an extra GCSE on average.
Teenagers who believe in God are likely to get better exam results than those who don't, a major study has found
The inquiry, based on questionnaires completed by more than 8,000 teenagers, said the advantage appears to stem from religious belief itself and has nothing to do with whether a pupil goes to an academically strong faith school.
Nor is it connected to self-confidence, work ethic, sociability or the sense of control that young people have over their lives – qualities often linked to children from stable families with good incomes.
The findings, assembled by Lancaster University researchers and unveiled at a Royal Economic Society conference, will provide food for thought for parents anxious to get their child into a high-status faith-based state school.
The report said: 'Belief is more important than the faith of the institution.'
Researchers said there are indications that pupils with spiritual faith go on to do well at A-Level and have a higher chance of getting into a selective Russell Group university, but their figures are not robust enough to prove it.
Children aged 14 who say that faith is important in their lives typically go on to pass more GCSEs than non-believing pupils
However the findings do show, they said, that teenagers who go to faith schools are more likely to hold religious beliefs when they reach the age of 25, and that faith schools do better than other secondary schools across a range of non-academic measures including suppressing bullying and winning approval from parents.
The evidence adds to the mystery of why holding religious faith appears to confer benefits. Well-being surveys routinely find that Christians and believers of other faiths are happier and more confident than others.
The findings were drawn from the Government’s National Pupil Database and from the Next Steps survey that has been tracking pupils in 650 schools since 2004. In the survey students were asked: ‘How important is your faith to the way you live your life?’
The academics looked at pupils from the age of 14 to 25, and they concentrated mainly on protestant and Roman Catholic Christians. The thinking of Muslim pupils was discounted because almost all professed religious belief - only 20 said they were not believers - and as a result no effective comparison could be made.
Researcher Andrew McKendrick said that teenagers ‘who are more faithful tend to achieve more passes and better grades at GCSE. There is also some evidence that academic test scores at age 18 and likelihood of attending university are also positively affected.’
He added: ‘We find big effects on GCSE attainment - a third of an extra pass for the faithful compared with the unfaithful. That is big compared to the average of six passes.’