Kids Raised Without Religion Grow Up to Be More Generous

jesus facepalmOne of the reasons some parents give for raising their children to be religious is that faith supposedly teaches kids how to be decent human beings. But according to a recent study published in Current Biology, bringing up kids in a religion can actually make them more selfish. Wait, that's not how "do unto others" is supposed to work!


University of Chicago scientist Jean Decety conducted an experiment designed to measure altruistic tendencies on over 1,000 international children: 510 from Muslim households, 280 from Christian ones, 323 from non-religious homes, and a small number of kids from agnostic or “other” homes (Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu). All of the children were given stickers, then told that not every kid in their school would receive stickers, but that they had the option to share their stickers. And guess what? Turns out that contrary to what one might expect, Christian and Muslim kids were the least willing to share their stickers.

As The Economist explained it:

The children of non-believers were significantly more generous than those of believers. They gave away an average of 4.1 stickers. Children from a religious background gave away 3.3. And a further analysis of the two largest religious groups (Jews, Buddhists and Hindus were excluded because of their small numbers in the sample) showed no statistical difference between them. Muslim children gave away 3.2 stickers on average, while Christian children gave away 3.3.

Researchers also found that the more religious a household was, the less generous kids were. (Though, as the authors wrote, "Across all countries, parents in religious households reported that their children expressed more empathy and sensitivity for justice in everyday life than non-religious parents.") The question, of course, is why? Shouldn't kids who are being reminded daily of the importance of "the golden rule" be more inclined to share, not less?

More from The Stir: Atheist Mom Talks 'Losing' Her Religion While Raising 7 Kids

There are no clear answers as of yet, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that human beings are more inclined toward being kind and helping others when they're genuinely inspired to do so, not when they've been told that they're supposed to be generous because "God" wants them to be. Or maybe, despite their religious affiliations, the parents of these children aren't truly modeling empathy and unselfishness in their everyday lives. After all, with organized religion comes a certain degree of judgment and separation -- the mentality that those outside your given faith are doing something "wrong" -- and that mindset doesn't exactly inspire across-the-board compassion, even though most major religions preach the virtues of doing for others, at least on the surface. Of course it would be something of a leap to suggest that religion breeds selfishness, but it's definitely food for thought: Clearly religion is not enough if you're really looking to raise loving, giving children. 


Image via Kirill Proskurin/Flickr

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