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For immediate release
June 16, 1998

Civic Values Stronger Among Girls, Columbia University Study Finds

Girls are more likely than boys to tolerate extreme viewpoints, volunteer in their communities and experience feelings of patriotism, according to a Columbia University study of democratic values among eighth graders in New York City schools.

The findings emerged in a study of the factors that help young people develop democratic values, such as political tolerance and community involvement. Eighth graders in public, private secular and private religious schools participated in the study, carried out by graduate students at ColumbiaŐs School of International and Public Affairs under the direction of Patrick Wolf, assistant professor of political science.

Female students were 7.8 percent more likely to volunteer in their communities while students with some private education were 15.2 percent more likely to volunteer than students educated entirely in public schools.

Schools that expose students to community leaders through assemblies or workshops produced more tolerant students, the researchers found. Similarly, students who discuss politics with friends and family are more tolerant than those who do not. Students who attend schools that encourage participation in school meetings were more tolerant and willing to volunteer more often. Students allowed to participate in school curriculum development were more likely to volunteer in the community.

"Clearly, schools can make a big difference in promoting democratic values," Professor Wolf said. "Our results indicate that in order to produce a higher level of civic values in students, the students themselves must become involved and participate in the learning process."

Professor Wolf said girls held stronger positions on every measure of democratic values, particularly in tolerance for viewpoints on the fringes of American social and political life, such as atheism, religious fundamentalism or neo-Nazism. "While this finding is interesting in its own right, we find it even more intriguing because previous studies indicate that by the time students reach college age, men tend to be more tolerant than women," Professor Wolf said.

The Columbia researchers found that public school students are more patriotic than their private and parochial school counterparts but that students at private secular schools are more tolerant of extremist viewpoints. Students at religious schools were more likely to volunteer than students in other schools.

"The findings illustrate that public, private and parochial schools each have unique strengths," said Professor Wolf. "Our data show that students with a combination of both private and public schooling exhibit the highest levels of democratic values."

Wolf said that while certain schools may promote one indicator of democratic values, such as patriotism, they may detract from another, such as tolerance. School policies that encouraged student and community participation in school affairs resulted in higher levels of democratic values among students, the study found.

The research was completed in WolfŐs Workshop in Applied Policy Analysis, taken by students in the MasterŐs of Public Administration program. The graduate students administered surveys to 590 students in three public schools in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island, 136 students in six private secular schools, all in Manhattan, and 197 students in eight private religious schools in Manhattan, Staten Island and Brooklyn.

Among the students surveyed, 51.4 percent were female and 48.6 percent were male. White students made up 51.3 percent of the participants while 19.5 percent were Hispanic; 10 percent, black; 11.9 percent, mixed race; 6.9 percent, Asian; and 0.4 percent, American Indian. Over half of the students, 55.8 percent, identified themselves as Roman Catholic, while 16.7 percent were Christian (non-Catholic); 12.1 percent, Jewish; 8.5 percent, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Mormon. Nearly 7 percent did not have a religious affiliation. Twenty-four percent reside in Manhattan; 29.4 percent in Staten Island; 17.9 percent in Brooklyn and 28.8 percent in the Bronx.

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