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Religious Schools, Home Schools, and the Timing of First Marriage and First Birth


The timing of individuals’ family formation is important for a number of socioeconomic and health outcomes. We examine the influence of religious schools and home schools on the timing of first marriage and first birth using data from the Cardus Education Study Graduate Survey (N = 1,496). Our results from life tables and event-history regression models show that, on average, graduates of evangelical Protestant schools—but not Catholic school or homeschool graduates—have earlier marriages and births than public school graduates. Catholic school students have later first births on average than public school graduates. Models interacting schooling type with age and age-squared suggest that evangelical schoolers’ higher odds of marriage stem from higher odds of marrying at ages 21–30, and their higher odds of first birth stem from higher odds of births from ages 25–34. Catholic school and nonreligious private school students also have higher odds of marrying in the mid-20s and early-30s than do public school students. Evangelical, non-religious private, and Catholic school students all have lower odds of teenage births than public school students but higher odds of birth later in the life course. Homeschoolers do not differ on either outcome at any age. Our findings suggest that schools socialize their students with distinctive attitudes toward family formation that influence their behavior even many years after graduation, though these schools do not appear to be particularly harmful to life chances in terms of fostering marriage or childbearing at very young ages.

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  1. 1.

    The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that 10 percent of students were enrolled in private schools in 2009–10, and 88 percent of these private school students were enrolled in religious private schools.

  2. 2.

    As an example of pronatalism, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2373) states, “Sacred Scripture and the Church’s traditional practice see in large families a sign of God’s blessing and the parents’ generosity.”

  3. 3.

    For an examination of the state of Catholic schools in the United States, see (MacGregor 2012).

  4. 4.

    We refer to respondents throughout this article as “graduates” and “students” from various types of secondary schools even though the survey technically asks respondents what type of secondary school they “primarily attended.” These terms, although not precise, are less cumbersome than the alternatives.

  5. 5.

    For more on the recruitment and sampling methods used to generate KnowledgePanel®, please consult

  6. 6.

    Unfortunately, the survey does not allow us to differentiate among biological, adopted, and step-children.

  7. 7.

    Those marrying or having a child prior to age 16 are considered to have married or had a child at age 16 (N = 4 for marriage and N = 13 for having a child). Additionally, a small number of cases had implausible values and were deleted from our analyses (N = 8 for having a child and N = 2 for marrying).

  8. 8.

    Four of the seven “other” cases were moved to the “evangelical Protestant” category based on the denomination specified. The remaining three were left in the “other religious” category.

  9. 9.

    For the few cases that reported having no primary mother figure, only the primary father’s attendance was used. For those cases that reported having no primary father, only the primary mother’s attendance was used.

  10. 10.

    If the respondent did not have a primary mother figure, we used the religious tradition of the primary father figure (29 cases).

  11. 11.

    The majority of those raised with evangelical Protestant backgrounds had mothers who were Baptist or Pentecostal, while the majority of those we coded as coming from mainline Protestant backgrounds had mothers who were Episcopalian/Anglican, Disciplines of Christ, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Reformed.

  12. 12.

    We do not include “other religious” in these figures because there are too few cases (N = 23) and because the category itself does not represent a distinctive schooling type.

  13. 13.

    The sudden increase between age 38 and 39 in cumulative proportion with first birth for Catholic school graduates is almost certainly a statistical anomaly because there are so few cases by this age.

  14. 14.

    Including both age and age squared as control variables allows us to specify the additional influence of high school type beyond the general curvilinear pattern of first marriage associated with age for the entire high school graduate population.

  15. 15.

    The statistical significance of the differences in Figs. 3 and 4 discussed here and below are based on results from separate regression models centering age at each value from 16–39 and looking at the p value of the non-interacted school type coefficients.

  16. 16.

    Some of this might be attributable to a heightened proclivity of evangelical school graduates to “legitimize” births through marriage, but previous research has not found a link between religious conservatism and “shotgun” marriages (Manning 1993), so we suspect this is not the primary mechanisms at work here.


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The authors would like to thank David Sikkink and Cardus for data access. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2012 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

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Correspondence to Jeremy E. Uecker.

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Uecker, J.E., Hill, J.P. Religious Schools, Home Schools, and the Timing of First Marriage and First Birth. Rev Relig Res 56, 189–218 (2014).

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  • Religious schools
  • Home schools
  • Family formation
  • Marriage timing
  • Fertility timing
  • Religious socialization