New Paper Concludes Religion Can Positively Affect Disadvantaged Children

September 12, 2007

Religion can be a beneficial influence on the lives of disadvantaged children later in life, according to a new Working Paper co-authored by Erzo F.P. Luttmer, associate professor of public policy.

The Paper, titled "The Role of Social and Religious Organizations in the Lives of Disadvantaged Youth," examines the question of whether or not children whose families participate in religious activities and other social networks are positively influenced years later.

"The link between poverty and poor outcomes has been hypothesized to be partially due to deficiencies in parenting, home environments, and neighborhoods. Religious and social organizations could therefore make up for some of this lost social capital by providing counseling, social services, income support, or a network of social contacts," the authors write. "Our previous research has found that religious organizations enable adults to partially insure their consumption and happiness against income shocks. This paper builds on those results by examining whether involvement with religion or social organizations mitigates the long-run negative effects on youth of growing up in a disadvantaged environment."

Luttmer and his co-authors utilize a variety of metrics to measure levels of disadvantage, including family income and parental education, and to measure positive outcomes, including education, income and health. Their assessment found "strong evidence" that young people involved in religious activities were positively affected later in life more than those who did not.

"The buffering effects of religious organizations are most often statistically significant when outcomes are measured by high school graduation or non-smoking and when disadvantage is measured by family resources or maternal education, but we also find statistically significant buffering effects for a number of other outcome-disadvantage pairs," the authors state.

Luttmer teaches public economics and microeconomics. His research interests include public economics, labor economics, and applied econometrics.

Access the Working Paper on the Kennedy School Working Papers website. The active URL for the Working Paper is:

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