Study: Kids from nonreligious families more altruistic

In what amounts to good news for secular parents and nonbelievers, children who grow up in nonreligious environments appear to be more generous than those who are raised with religion, according to a new study.

More than half of all Americans think that belief in God is required to be moral, but the results of the study published Nov. 5 in the journal Current Biology “contradict the common-sense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind toward others,” the authors wrote.

The study, which surveyed 1,170 children between ages 5 and 12 from several religious backgrounds in the U.S., Canada, Jordan, Turkey, South Africa and China, found that the kids from nonbelieving households were more likely to share with their classmates and less likely to endorse harsh punishments for those who pushed or bumped into others.

The generosity scores for Christians and Muslims were basically the same, but the scores for the nonreligious children were 23% to 28% higher. It was also found that the more religious (any religion) the family, the less altruistic the child.

An analysis by says “the results might be explained in part by ‘moral licensing,’ a phenomenon in which doing something ‘good’ — in this case practicing a religion — can leave people less concerned about the consequences of immoral behavior, the researchers say. They also come as a timely reminder that religion and morality are not one and the same.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation