In a surprise only to the disingenuous and rabidly religious, a University of Munich study published (PDF) in the Centre for Economic Studies (CESifo) reports that the lack of religion in schools only makes people less religious. And in fact, it makes them more moral.
From the National Secular Society of the UK:
Religious education promotes religiosity but not broadly shared moral and political values, research suggests.
Researchers at the University of Munich’s Institute for Economic Research have found German states’ decisions to replace compulsory religious education (RE) in the 1970s with optional ethics classes significantly reduced pupils’ religiosity in adulthood.
The researchers’ findings were published in a recent study, Can schools change religious attitudes? which found students with the option to attend non-denominational ethics classes rather than RE were less likely to describe themselves as ‘religious’ (49% verses 52%) or ‘very religious’ (9% verses 11%) as adults.
[. . .]
The paper also found the non-denominational ethics option led to a decrease in conservative gender and family attitudes, particularly around beliefs that men are more suited for certain jobs, and a decrease in prejudice towards unmarried couples.
It also found no significant impact on pupils’ “ethical-value outcomes including reciprocity, trust, risk preference, volunteering, and life satisfaction” or “political-value outcomes such as political interest, satisfaction with democracy, or left-right voting patterns”.
So, being raised without religion encouraged social and personal responsibility, more respect and equality for women, and more respect and equality for LGBTQIA people. And young people’s sense of morality improved. Whodathunkit?
Here’s an excerpt from the PDF linked at the top. Emphasis after the title is mine:
Can Schools Change Religious Attitudes? Evidence from German State Reforms of Compulsory Religious Education
We study whether compulsory religious education in schools affects students’ religiosity as adults. We exploit the staggered termination of compulsory religious education across German states in models with state and cohort fixed effects. Using three different datasets, we find that abolishing compulsory religious education significantly reduced religiosity of affected students in adulthood. It also reduced the religious actions of personal prayer, church-going, and church membership. Beyond religious attitudes, the reform led to more equalized gender roles, fewer marriages and children, and higher labor-market participation and earnings. The reform did not affect ethical and political values or non-religious school outcomes.
[. . .]
Our study investigates whether compulsory religious
education affects people’s religiosity in the long run. We argue that the different timing of reforms that abandoned compulsory religious education across German states provides plausibly exogenous variation in individuals’ exposure to compulsory religious education. Students could now choose to attend non-denominational ethics classes rather than religious education, which likely also changed overall social norms towards religion and, by competitive pressures, the content of religious classes. We find that, conditional on state and birth-year fixed effects, the termination of compulsory religious education led to a significant reduction in the religiosity of affected students in adulthood. The reform reduced the share of people reporting to be religious by about 3 percentage points (compared to an average incidence of 52 percent) and of those reporting to be very religious by 2 percentage points (average 11 percent). Similar standardized reductions are found in three measures of religious actions – prayer, church-going, and religious affiliation.
We do not find that the reform affected ethical values and behavior such as reciprocity, trust, volunteering, and life satisfaction, nor political values and behavior such as interest in politics, satisfaction with democracy, or voting. It appears that the counterfactual of attending non-denominational ethics classes was equivalent to attending religious-education classes in terms of these outcomes, speaking against concerns in the policy debate at the time that abolishing compulsory religious education may deteriorate students’ ethical orientation.
Beyond the religious sphere, the reform also affected family and economic outcomes. Affected students express less conservative gender and family norms later in life. This finding provides insights for the literature on gender norms which shows that these norms are important determinants for lifetime outcomes (e.g., Kleven et al. (2019); Jayachandran (2021)). Yet, it is not well understood where these norms come from. Our results provide evidence that changes in school curricula can impact gender norms, implying that they are malleable in public settings outside the family. The abolishment of compulsory religious education also affected actual family outcomes – lower incidence of marriage and number of children – as well as labor-market outcomes – higher employment and earnings. Thus, the reform also had economically relevant repercussions.