Do children perform better in religious schools?

Religious schools enjoy a high academic reputation among parents in many societies. Previous studies that assessed the effect of religious schools mostly focused on Catholic schools and were conducted in countries where religious schools are private or where they charge fees and set admission criteria. As a result, the effect of religious schooling could not be separated from the effect of private schooling. We contribute to the literature by studying the effect of six most prominent religious school denominations in the Netherlands, a country in which both public and religious schools have been publicly funded since 1917, schooling is free of charge and admission is independent of the child’s religious or ideological character. We use Dutch data that include the entire population of children born between 1999 and 2007. Combining postcode fixed effects models with treatment effect bounds, we find that children in religious schools outperform children in public schools on a high-stakes standardized test in primary education. The benefits of primary religious schooling were largest for children in Orthodox Protestant, Islamic and Hindu schools, which mostly attract children from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background. However, the influence of religious schooling fades out by the end of secondary education.

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