The social aspects of fasting in the holy month of Ramadan, appear to have a positive effect on the school performance of fasting adolescents, according to the results of a study prepared by German researchers and published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization in March.
In the study, the researchers examined whether fasting during Ramadan had an effect on the school performance of eighth-grade students that continued after the fasting period and whether this effect was related to the duration of the fast.
Although it is known that fasting may have negative effects on concentration during abstinence from food and drink, the researchers noted that students in Muslim countries performed better in the TIMSS (Trends in the Study of International Mathematics and Science) after fasting during Ramadan.
The authors indicate that the improvement in school performance is due in particular to the social aspects of fasting. “We found that longer fasting hours lead to higher test scores for students in Muslim-majority countries. We also found that longer fasting hours lead to higher test scores for Muslim students in European countries,” the authors said.
The study showed that Muslim students achieve higher scores in educational performance tests after fasting during Ramadan. By practising the spiritual experience of fasting, students can build their social capital and social identities, which in turn enhances educational performance.
The lead author of the study, Erik Hornung, a professor of economic history at the University of Cologne in Germany, said that during Ramadan, believers engage in social, moral and religious activities that have a significant impact on social life in Muslim societies. The daily iftars at sunset are clearly social, as meals are shared at home with family and friends or with the religious community in a semi-celebratory rite.
Therefore, the authors believe that the month of Ramadan increases the “spiritual well-being” of those fasting, promotes tolerance and social bonds for the young, and creates a shared identity among the participants in this worship.
Hornung explained to the Daily News Egypt that these positive results on educational performance could be explained by increased social capital, as religious individuals are more likely to participate in religious activities and thus have a greater number of social ties.
Religiously active parents know their children’s friends better and religiously active children have access to friends from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Thus, while educational outcomes are lower among Muslims in general, more religious Muslims may achieve better educational outcomes due to their higher social capital.
“We found evidence that attendance at religious services increases during intense Ramadan among the 15-18 age group (but not for groups of older individuals). We speculate, based on evidence from social studies, that attendance at religious services leads to a broader social network and identity building. Shared with the people you share the experience with, especially during adolescence. Both can lead to higher educational performance,” added the study’s lead author.
As for the accuracy of these results, Hornung believes that the method of isolating other factors such as the time and timing of the test, the country in which the test was conducted and focusing on the fasting factor alone to analyse the regression in the test scores at the individual level, which is the method on which the current study relied, may be criticized by peer researchers.
“Unfortunately, the exact mechanism of how Ramadan affects the performance of mediocre students is not entirely clear,” he said.
“We had to speculate a bit based on our evidence. In the future, researchers may have better data to study this but at the moment we don’t have that data.”