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Who Volunteers the Most?

Religious Americans participate in charitable or volunteer organizations twice as much as do secular Americans. So says existing research. But a new study suggests that it's not people's religion that prompts them to become model volunteers, but which high school they attended.

According to Calvin College researchers Jonathan Hill and Kevin den Dulk, the type of high school people attend influences them more than any other factor—including religion, socioeconomic status, or family type.

What type makes the most difference? Their study, published this March in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, shows that graduates of Protestant high schools out-volunteer peers from Catholic, secular, public, and home schools—all by significant margins.

The "counterintuitive" findings (researchers expected homeschoolers to be on top) stayed consistent throughout all tests, den Dulk says.

"Educational setting," he said, has a value "beyond religious identity."

The problem is no one knows exactly why Protestant schooling predicts the likelihood of volunteering.

David Sikkink, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame whose research has found similar results, believes that somehow teachers implant a sense of civic duty in students' minds.

Protestant schools tend to be strong communities where students get a sense of "collective identity," he said, "and they get practice committing to the common good of the institutions."

One possible explanation is the type of "opportunity structure" for community service that exists for graduates. Hill and den Dulk speculate that Protestant schools may provide better access ...

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In the Magazine

May 2013

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