Religion, Religiosity, and Private Schools

Article excerpt

The effects of religion and religiosity as measured by attendance at weekly religious services on the demand for private schooling is assessed. It is shown that Catholics, fundamentalist/evangelical Protestants, and respondents who attend religious services more often have a higher demand for private schooling. Data from the National Opinion Research Center's "General Social Survey" are used.

INTRODUCTION

There are numerous studies on the effects of private elementary and secondary schools on academic achievement and other outcomes. Many of these studies pay some attention to the determinants of private school attendance in models that try to correct for selectivity in the private school sector. However, they tend to focus on the effects of private schooling rather than upon the demand for private schooling. There is a smaller literature that focuses on the demand for private schooling. These studies tend to focus on the effects of key economic variables like price and income on the demand for private schooling. Less attention is usually given to the religious nature of private schools although most private schools have a religious orientation. In treating religion, most of the studies on the demand for private schooling and on the effects of private schooling do little more than adjust for Catholic religion (or a proxy for Catholic religion) in estimates of the demand for private schooling. The reason for the Catholic school focus is that they have accounted for a large share of private school enrollment over time. The effects of other religions and heterogeneity within religions are usually not considered.

In the United States, about 1 in 10 students have attended private elementary and secondary schools since the 1940s. Before 1970, about 9 out of 10 students in the private school sector attended Catholic schools. Catholic schools have declined in importance over time. Today, they account for about one out of two students in the private school sector (see Table 1). In 1960, there were nearly 13,000 Catholic schools with an enrollment of over 5 million. By 1999, there were approximately 8,000 Catholic schools with an enrollment of about 2.5 million. The decline in Catholic schooling has been offset by increases in other religious schooling and, to a lesser extent, nonsectarian private schooling. Evangelical Protestant schools have shown the most growth over the past 3 decades. By 2000, about 38% of private school enrollment was in non-Catholic religious schools. This is up from about 16% in the mid-1970s (see Table 2).

In this essay, the probability of attending private schools is a focus. This study is different from previous studies in that a national data set is studied to consider both the effects of different religions and religiosity as measured by the regularity of attending religious services on the probability that parents send their children to private schools. The results indicate that Catholics, evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants, and respondents with higher levels of religious services attendance, especially Catholics with higher levels of church attendance, are significantly more likely to send their children to private schools. Other significant determinants of private school attendance include location, family income, and parents' education.

RELATED STUDIES

One of the reasons that parents might choose to send their children to private schools is that they perceive that the private schools that are available to them are better than the public school alternatives. For this reason, many studies have tried to estimate whether private schools are superior. These studies implicitly tend to gauge the demand for private schooling. Studies by Coleman, Hoffer, and Kilgore (1982) and Coleman and Hoffer (1987) suggested that Catholic high schools in particular increased test scores and the probability that students graduated from high school. Their results for other private high schools were problematic. …