“How does religion matter here? The reason that kids who are religious ‘abiders’ end up having an academic advantage, especially in the working class and the middle class, is because their grades are so much better in the middle and high school years that their chances of getting into college are much higher. They also are constantly being told: “Oh you have good grades, you are college material,” so their chances of applying are higher. Grades in high school are a very strong predictor of college success, so their chances of graduating are higher. The reason it matters for them is because essentially all the things that would have derailed their academic success – the despair and getting into trouble – this is especially the case for boys who end up falling off the paths of college in much higher rates than girls. It essentially buffers them from all of that and helps them be twice as likely to get a college degree than non-abiders from the working and middle class.” 


Episode Description: We begin by distinguishing Americans who are simply religious from those who “have an active and reciprocal relationship with God in which they talk to God and God talks back” – a group that Ilana calls ‘abiders’. This group by virtue of wishing to please God and increase their chances of getting to Heaven develop a conscientiousness that improves their academic performance. By both ‘believing and belonging’ they remain closer to their families and church networks which provides them ‘social capital’ that contributes to their sense of well-being. These abider advantages do not apply to those born into professional families as they gain these advantages through other means. It also does not provide an advantage to those born into poor families. We further discuss the phenomena of ‘undermatching’ which is when adolescents choose less selective colleges in service of privileging family over career advancement.

Our Guest: Ilana M. Horwitz, Ph.D., (Stanford University) is an Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies and Sociology, and the Fields-Rayant Chair of Contemporary Jewish Life at the Stuart and Suzanne Grant Center for the American Jewish Experience at Tulane University.

Born in Russia, Dr. Horwitz immigrated to Philadelphia when she was seven years old as part of the Soviet Jewry Movement. Having grown up in a country where Jews were persecuted, Dr. Horwitz had almost no exposure to Jewish traditions growing up. In Philadelphia, her family received significant help from different Jewish agencies and Jewish philanthropists, which allowed Dr. Horwitz to participate in Jewish schools, camps, and youth groups. In addition to learning about Judaism, Dr. Horwitz’s immersion in Jewish institutions required her to learn how to navigate a middle-upper class social world as a working-class immigrant. These early educational and social experiences had a profound impact on Dr. Horwitz and led to her eventual interest in sociology and education.

In addition to her recent book God, Grades, and Graduation: Religion’s Surprising Impact on Academic Success, her scholarship has also appeared in American Sociological Review, Social Science Research, Contemporary Jewry, Review of Religious Research, Contexts, and Jewish Social Studies. Her public opinion pieces have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Conversation, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Inside Higher Education, and Religion News Service.

Dr. Horwitz can be reached at ihorwitz@tulane.edu.

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