A new study has come out with the surprising result that children from religious upbringings are less altruistic than children with none, and the more "serious" the upbringing the less generous the child.
The new research, done with children in six countries (Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey, South Africa, and the United States), included 510 Muslim, 280 Christian, and 323 nonreligious children. The study, the first to take such a large-scale look at how religion and moral behavior intersect in children from across the globe, focused on one facet of moral behavior: altruism, or the willingness to give someone else a benefit that also comes with a personal cost....
[E]ach child was told they could put some of their 10 stickers in an envelope to be shared with other kids, who were described as being from the same school and ethnic group. The scientists used the number of stickers left in the envelope as a measure of altruism.There are a couple of theories of why this might be the case
The children from nonreligious households left 4.1 stickers on average, a statistically significant difference from Christian children (3.3) and Muslim ones (3.2). Also, the more religious the household, based on a survey of parents, the less altruistic the child. ..... In older children, the split was most stark, with religious youth increasingly unlikely to share.
[T]he pattern of religious children being less generous may be tied to a phenomenon called “moral licensing.” That’s when a person feels permitted—even unconsciously—to do something wrong, because they see themselves as a morally correct person.We see a lot of that in the do-as-I-say hypocrisy of many ostensibly devout people. Another take:
[T]he results are connected to the importance many religions place on an external authority and threats of divine punishment. Whereas children in religious households learn to act out of obedience to a watchful higher power, children raised in secular homes could be taught to follow moral rules just because it’s “the right thing to do,” he says. Then, “when no one is watching, the kids from nonreligious families behave better.”Again, a form of hypocrisy.
Interestingly, data from other studies suggests that there is no difference in the altruism of adults.