My local newspaper, The New Zealand Herald, recently published an opinion piece whose purpose was to discredit religion and show that people not only do not behave worse without it, but actually behave better. His ammunition was a couple of articles by a US researcher called Gregory Paul, who had discovered the following:
“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, venereal disease, teen pregnancy, and abortion.”
I immediately smelled a rat, because it contradicts every bit of research I had ever read about the effects of religious practice (practice, not nominal belief). And, funnily enough, this week Pat Fagan sent out a research brief from the Heritage Foundation, confirming my impressions.
Using data from the US National Survey of Family Growth (2002) Dr Fagan compared women who had had ever an unwanted pregnancy by current religious attendance and by the kind of family structure they grew up in. This is what he found:
Examining current religious attendance only, women who worship at least weekly have an average of 0.43 unwanted pregnancies in their lifetime, followed by women who attend religious services between one and three times a month (0.50), those who attend religious services less than once a month (0.57), and those who never attend religious services (0.66).1
But family structure turns out to be even more influential:
Examining structure of family of origin only, women who grew up in an intact married family have an average of 0.39 unwanted pregnancies in their lifetime, followed by women from married stepfamilies (0.54), single divorced parent families (0.69), cohabiting stepfamilies (0.79), intact cohabiting families (0.86), and always single parent families (0.9).
Together, coming from an intact family and currently practising one’s faith gave women the lowest risk of an unwanted pregnancy:
The number of unwanted pregnancies is lowest for women who grew up in an intact married family and who now worship at least weekly. According to the National Survey of Family Growth, women who grew up in an intact married family and now worship at least weekly have an average of 0.3 unwanted pregnancies in their lifetimes, followed by women who grew up in an intact married family and now never worship (0.51), those who grew up in other family structures and now worship at least weekly (0.63), and those who grew up in other family structures and now never worship (0.77).
So, religious practice correlates with two very desirable social traits — at least.