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US study shows that children fare better in secular families

US study shows that children fare better in secular families

For almost 40 years, Vern L Bengtson, above, a USC professor of gerontology and sociology, has overseen the Longitudinal Study of Generations, which has become the largest study of religion and family life conducted across several generations in the United States.

According to Phil Zuckerman, writing for the LA Times, when Bengston noticed the growth of non-religious Americans becoming increasingly pronounced, he decided in 2013 to add secular families to his study in an attempt to understand how family life and intergenerational influences play out among the religionless.

He was surprised by what he found: high levels of family solidarity and emotional closeness between parents and non-religious youth, and strong ethical standards and moral values that had been clearly articulated as they were imparted to the next generation.

Many non-religious parents were more coherent and passionate about their ethical principles than some of the ‘religious’ parents in our study. The vast majority appeared to live goal-filled lives characterised by moral direction and sense of life having a purpose.

Zuckerman, above, author of Living the Secular Life, added:

My own ongoing research among secular Americans – as well as that of a handful of other social scientists who have only recently turned their gaze on secular culture – confirms that non-religious family life is replete with its own sustaining moral values and enriching ethical precepts. Chief among those: rational problem solving, personal autonomy, independence of thought, avoidance of corporal punishment, a spirit of ‘questioning everything’ and, far above all, empathy.

For secular people, morality is predicated on one simple principle: empathetic reciprocity, widely known as the Golden Rule. Treating other people as you would like to be treated. It is an ancient, universal ethical imperative. And it requires no supernatural beliefs.

The results of such secular child-rearing are encouraging. Studies have found that secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the ‘cool kids’ think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers. When these teens mature into ‘godless’ adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.

And he pointed out:

Recent research also has shown that children raised without religion tend to remain irreligious as they grow older – and are perhaps more accepting. Secular adults are more likely to understand and accept the science concerning global warming, and to support women’s equality and gay rights.

One telling fact from the criminology field: Atheists were almost absent from our prison population as of the late 1990s, comprising less than half of 1% of those behind bars, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics. This echoes what the criminology field has documented for more than a century – the unaffiliated and the non-religious engage in far fewer crimes.

Another meaningful related fact: Democratic countries with the lowest levels of religious faith and participation today – such as Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Belgium and New Zealand – have among the lowest violent crime rates in the world and enjoy remarkably high levels of societal well-being. If secular people couldn’t raise well-functioning, moral children, then a preponderance of them in a given society would spell societal disaster. Yet quite the opposite is the case.

Being a secular parent and something of an expert on secular culture, I know well the angst many secular Americans experience when they can’t help but wonder: Could I possibly be making a mistake by raising my children without religion? The unequivocal answer is no. Children raised without religion have no shortage of positive traits and virtues, and they ought to be warmly welcomed as a growing American demographic.

Hat tip: Matthew Carr

19 responses to “US study shows that children fare better in secular families”

  1. Charles Christopher says:

    Hardly surprising!

  2. Broga says:

    You know it makes sense.

  3. barriejohn says:

    Peter Brandon, a very successful and respected evangelist with the Plymouth Brethren, and a friend of Christians whom I knew well, died recently, aged about ninety. I was watching a bit of the following video (you wouldn’t want to watch it all!), and quite early on he says: “A New Testament marriage, functioning in a New Testament way, is one of the most beautiful things that you will see on God’s earth.” I heard that sort of thing time and time again. They really, truly, sincerely, and passionately, believe that, and the fact that they BELIEVE it means, in their minds, that it MUST be true. No amount of evidence to the contrary, or rational argument, will ever convince them that this is not the case, and I have no idea where you really start with such people. It’s “La La Land” again!

    https://youtu.be/dy1ZdKl9p0U

  4. Rob Andrews says:

    “… Atheists were almost absent from our prison population as of the late 1990s, comprising less than half of 1% of those behind bars,”

    That all in how they get their statistics. My two friends were in prison. They told me that other prisoners pretend to be Xtian.

    Two reasons mentioned: 1) You get out of your cell to listen to sermons and enjoy felowship-any thing is a good reason to get out of the cell 2) It impresses parole boards–he’s a better person. That’s used a lo!

  5. andym says:

    @ Rob Andrews. Though I wanted to believe it, that 1/2% figure seemed implausibly low to me too, and I wondered whether parole had anything to do with it. Still scandalous that following belief systems with a long history of violence makes a prisoner more likely to be freed.

  6. 1859 says:

    I think it says more about the state of society in the US than about other, more ‘open-minded’, societies. I grew up in the UK and spent a great deal of time in Europe. Everyone I ever met or got to know as friends were just unconcerned with religion – we’d all mentally ditched superstition and no one ever felt they were having a moral crisis by being irreligious. We tended to view those obsessed with god as odd-balls belonging to a dying generation and we viewed the violence of Northern Ireland with utter disgust – as a typical example of what happens when religious sectarianism is mixed with nationalism. So these findings – that secular families and their off-spring in the US seem to have their feet planted firmly in the rational world, for me personally, I find rather under-whelming. But still it is good news that real, robust research confirms what every secularist knows in the bones.

  7. Broga says:

    @1859: Religion casts a distorting, depressing cast to the mind. We still have the royal family, simpering on either side to the remaining adoring serfs, trooping into church.

    There was a picture of the self regarding bunch the other day as they went to worship their non existent deity. Perhaps they were thanking it for the huge increase given to them for these embarrassing performances and extracted from the taxes of the plebs. The Queen has been also been given £300 million to spend on her palace. They see themselves as serving the public. They are devoid of shame.

  8. Newspaniard says:

    Here we go again. @Broga just HAD to bring up the Monarchy as if they had anything to do with this thread. Take your republican views and put them on a thread which actually references the subject. OK, this is a free-thought site but if I kept banging on about my cats or living in Spain on every thread, I’m sure that he’d be the first to complain. While we are on the subject, what really pisses me off is when, in the middle of an interesting (to me) thread, someone feels the need to go “off topic”. I consider this as being very rude to the editor, although I may have been guilty of it from time to time *slaps back of head*. Even this could be construed as OT as @Broga’s. Instead of ruining the thread, why not send the subject and link to Barry and allow him to decide whether the item is worth publicizing?

  9. Broga says:

    Oh fuck it! I’m not having Newspaniard tell me how to think or write. He can stuff his royalist views. I’m off. No more from me. Goodbye.

  10. Edwin Salter says:

    The opener is a valuable and very relevant research, for which thanks. It all helps us to reply to the smugly sanctimonious – “Oh no – we’re just happier, nicer and more useful”.

  11. Peter Sykes says:

    Broga:
    Don’t go!
    New-what’s-his-name just like many people need a god or a royal to look up to. Poor things.

  12. barriejohn says:

    I’ll just take a little time off of “winding in my neck” (remember that – hahaha) to say that, unless the webmaster objects, anyone is free to post whatever comments they wish on whatever thread that they choose, and, by the same token, others have to be free (in my view) to object to the views expressed. The only thing that is totally intolerable is personal abuse, and at least one commenter has been banned for that, I believe, so I sincerely hope that we see more comments from Broga in the future, whether we agree with him or not.

  13. Daz says:

    The motto of the British monarch (except in Scotland): Dieu et mon droit. (God and my right.) But, obviously, a monarch’s claim to rule by divine right has sod all to do with secularism…

  14. Stephen Mynett says:

    Good points Barriejohn, I hope we have not heard the last of Broga.

    It is interesting that Broga is lambasted for going off topic by the same poster who expressed dismay at MFR leaving the site when many of the posts from him/her were just pointless rambles with little or nothing to do with the topic. Of course they were anti left and that is all that seems to matter to some.

  15. Edwin Salter says:

    Re topicality and the opening article, it seems relevant to observe that E. II is both keen on our Church and has Andrew and Edward in her family.

  16. andym says:

    Newspaniard berating someone for allegedly being predictable and repetitive. Self-awareness not his strong point, then.
    Please have a rethink, Broga.

  17. Barry Duke says:

    I’ll second that Peter Sykes. Both Broga and NewSpaniard have been longtime commenters on this site. It’s not crime to stray off topic but I’d rather have people not do it. Broga is passionately anti-monarchy, and so am I. NewSpaniard supports Trump and Brexshit, and I most certainly don’t, but free speech is paramount on this site and both are entitled to their opinions. So Broga please stay with us.

  18. Newspaniard says:

    Ah, yes. Miss Floribunda Rose. I was sorry to see her go. She spoke a lot of sense which wound up a lot of lefties on this site.

  19. 1859 says:

    Broga! Broga! Please don’t go!
    We love you so!
    You just gotta stare into all their yellow eyes without blinking once!

    I’ve always found your posts worth a read – remember ‘sticks and stones…’ etc.