Better school performance after intensive religious fasting

Performance gaps and Ramadan fasting hours (PISA reading and math scores) Note:: Scatterplot of country-by-year performance gaps in reading and math scores, respectively, between students whose parents are from Muslim countries and all other students and logarithm average daily fasting hours during Ramadan before taking the test. Country-year performance gaps and average daily fasting hours are adjusted by country. Credit: Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2022.10.025

More than a billion Muslims fast each year during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan. In addition to abstaining from food and drink daily between sunrise and sunset, many worshipers participate more than usual in social activities during this time. This includes, for example, the daily fast break with friends and family or with the congregation after service.

In a recent study, economists from Konstanz, Cologne and Bern came to the following conclusion: The social aspects of Ramadan, in particular, seem to have a positive impact on the school performance of adolescent believers. The results of the survey were published in Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.

Improved performance through increased social capital

In the study, the researchers examine the question of whether Ramadan fasting has an effect on the school performance of eighth graders that lasts beyond the fasting period and whether this effect is related to the intensity of the fast.

Their findings: Although physically demanding fasting is known to have negative effects on concentration during the fasting period, students in Muslim countries performed better on the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) after intensive Ramadan fasting than after a less intensive Ramadan.

Because more intensive fasting is also associated with increased participation in religious activities such as religious services, the authors suggest that increased school performance is primarily due to the social aspects of fasting.

“Our research suggests that engaging in religious practice promotes the formation of a shared identity among students and increases the social capital that is useful for educational success. This includes, for example, contact with other young people of a higher socioeconomic status, support and help, or recognition and knowledge,” explains Guido Schwerdt, professor at the Department of Economics at the University of Konstanz.

Why Ramadan as a Case Study?

As the Islamic calendar and the solar calendar differ, Ramadan occurs a few days earlier each year in the solar calendar. Since the length of the day depends on the season, the daily fasting hours of Ramadan also vary from year to year. “This results in natural variations over the years in the intensity of fasting among believers in a given region, which we linked to school performance data collected after each Ramadan,” explains Schwerdt.

Analysis of multi-year TIMSS data revealed in detail that increased fasting intensity is associated with better school performance in Muslim-majority countries. In countries where the majority are non-Muslim, there was no such effect.

“Using multi-year PISA data from eight Western European countries, we were additionally able to show that teenagers with parents from Muslim-majority countries performed better on the PISA test in years with longer daily fasting than other teenagers than in years with low intensity fasting,” adds Schwerdt.

This effect is greater in schools with a high proportion of Muslim students than in schools with a lower proportion—another indication that the social aspects of religious activity and the formation of a shared identity are at play here.

More information:
Erik Hornung et al, Religious practice and student performance: Evidence from the Ramadan fast, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2022.10.025

Provided by the University of Konstanz

Reference: Study: Better school performance after intensive religious fasting (2023, March 13) Retrieved March 13, 2023, from

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