A Brief Review of Religion, volunteering, and educational setting: The effect of youth schooling type on civic engagement, by Hill and Den Dulk

PERSPECTIVES – News and Comments1

A Brief Review of Religion, volunteering, and educational setting: The effect of youth schooling type on civic engagement, by Hill and Den Dulk

 Brian D. Ray

National Home Education Research Institute, Salem, Oregon, USA

What are home-educated children like when they get older? How about at 13 to 17 years of age, or when 18 to 23 years old? That is a very broad question. Narrowing it down, professors Hill and den Dulk wondered, Do young people continue to be engaged in volunteering at different rates depending on their educational setting background (Hill & Den Dulk, 2013)? They examined this topic, persisting in volunteering, as one way to hypothesize about civic engagement.

Using data from a national sample of youth, the researchers compared the rate at which those from different educational backgrounds continued to be involved in volunteering at ages 18 to 23 if they had been volunteers at ages 13 to 17. The survey question for determining “volunteering” was the following: “In the last year, how much, if at all, have you done organized volunteer work or community service?” (p. 185-186). Only youth who responded they had done any when younger were included in this study. Thus, Hill and den Dulk were examining the rate of continuing, at 18 to 23, to do volunteer or community service. The sample size of homeschooled youth was 60, out of a total sample of about 2,598.

The researchers carefully statistically controlled for many background variables such as religious beliefs, religious tradition/denomination, parental and youth worship attendance, parental encouragement of youth volunteering, parental volunteering, employment status of youth, “care” about racial equality, whether volunteering was required of the respondent, and standard demographic variables such as parents’ education and income, gender, age, and race/ethnicity. They also utilized various theoretical and statistical models for exploring and understanding the data.

Simply put, they found that students who attended “Protestant” schools and “Catholic” schools during high school were more likely than public school students to continue in volunteering while those who attended “homeschool” and “private, non-religious” schools were less likely than public school students to continue volunteering. According to one of the researchers’ models, “… 83 percent of Protestant schooled emerging adults who volunteered in adolescence continue to volunteer …” while the percents are 55% for Catholic school students, 48% for public school students, 23% for homeschoolers, and 10% for private nonreligious school students.

What is the significance of these findings? What are some things they tell us, and what do they not tell us?

First, one should look at the main variable or “outcome” of consideration: Do the “emerging adults” continue to volunteer? Volunteer is operationally defined as “… how much, if at all, have you done organized volunteer work or community service?” One must ask, What does this mean to a respondent, a study participant? Also, one should ask, From my worldview (e.g., postmodernism, critical theory, scripturalism), is it important for a young person to answer “yes” to this question? Further, would a homeschool (or any) respondent consider helping a poor widow next door or babysitting at no cost for a couple so that they can go out to dinner together as “community service”?

Next, the study does not tell us what percent of Protestant schoolers, Catholic schoolers, the others, or homeschoolers were involved in volunteering as 13- to 17-year-olds or 18- to 23-year-olds. The study only examines at what rate they continue in volunteering. That is, perhaps Catholic schoolers at 18 to 23 volunteer at a higher rate than Protestant schoolers but persisted, from about age 15 to about age 21 at a lower rate.

Third, one must be especially cautious about a very small sample size of 60, for homeschoolers (at age 18-23), when drawing conclusions about a national population that was probably hundreds of thousands of young adults at the time (2007-2008). If the sample of 60 was certainly representative of all those who were homeschooled in high school and if the samples of the other types of schooling were also representative, then (and only then) one can be fairly certain that the statistical differences the researchers found represented reality. The small sample size for homeschoolers is one reason the authors provided confidence intervals in Figure 1 (Personal communication with one author, March 21, 2013). For example, if the sampling was truly representative, the researchers are 95% confident that homeschoolers continue in volunteering at the rate of somewhere between about 9% to 38%, and Catholic schoolers between about 39% to 69%; that is, the difference might be practically insignificant.

Finally, the person interested in the extent to which young adults from various educational backgrounds participate in volunteer work, continue in volunteer work, or are civically engaged should consider other research that touches upon these topics. Researchers Hill and den Dulk did not mention some of these. For example, researcher Montgomery (1989) concluded that the home educated are very involved in activities that predict leadership and home education “… may in fact, nurture leadership at least as well as does the conventional [school] system” (p. 8).

Ray (2004), in a nationwide study of 5,254 adults who were homeschooled, found that for all civic activities (e.g., working for candidate/political party/political cause, voting in national/state elections) and at all age groups, the home-educated adults were more civically involved than the overall national population” (p. 49) and were participating in any ongoing community service activity at a rate higher than the national average. Further, Sutton and Galloway (2000) reported that “… results from multivariate analysis of variance showed college graduates from home schools held significantly more leadership posts for significantly greater periods of time than did the private school group” while there was no significant difference on these variables between the homeschooled and public-schooled (p. 137).

The Hill and den Dulk is one study in what is a growing mosaic of research pieces that address many aspects of homeschooling and its effects on lives and society. Several more pieces of research will need to be done to have a relatively firm grip on whether adults who were home educated engage in volunteer work or civic activities at the same rate or a different rate than those who attended institutional schools.


Hill, Jonathan P.; Den Dulk, Kevin R. (2013). Religion, volunteering, and educational setting: The effect of youth schooling type on civic engagement. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 52(1):179–197.

Montgomery, Linda R. (1989). The effect of home schooling on the leadership skills of home schooled students. Home School Researcher, 5(1), 1-10, www.nheri.org.

Ray, Brian D. (2004). Home educated and now adults: Their community and civic involvement, views about homeschooling, and other traits. Salem, OR: National Home Education Research Institute, www.nheri.org. The adults in this study were not necessarily representative of all who had been homeschooled.

Sutton, Joe P., & Galloway, Rhonda. (2000). College success of students from three high school settings. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 33(3), 137-146.


  1. The “Perspectives – News and Comments” section of this journal consists of articles that have not undergone peer review.