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Improved school performance following intensive Ramadan

New study by WiSo researcher Erik Hornung confirms positive effect.

Brown haired young boy, sitting at a schooldesk, wearing a takka looking towards the camera.

According to a current study, longer daily fasting periods during Ramadan have an average medium-term positive effect on the school performance of Muslim youth. In particular, the various social activities during Ramadan contribute to young people developing new social contacts and a common identity within their school class, the scientists around Erik Hornung assume, who is a Professor of Economic History at the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences of the University of Cologne and member of the Cluster of Excellence ECONtribute: Markets & Public Policy. Ultimately, this would boost school performance, argues Professor Hornung.

Prior studies had emphasised the immediate negative effects of fasting on performance in particular. "We however show that students who engage in an intensive period of Ramadan can benefit from it in the medium term because they change their social patterns of behaviour," Erik Hornung summarises the study results. The joint study with the Universities of Konstanz and Bern has been published in the Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization.

The team analysed data from eighth graders in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the European PISA test over several years. They investigated whether Ramadan affects academic performance beyond the fasting period and whether the daily duration of fasting matters. The latter varies as the date of Ramadan moves forward annually. It, therefore, depends on the time of sunrise and sunset and thus on the season in which Ramadan falls.

The result: "Students who experienced an intensive Ramadan performed on average better at school in the following year," explains Professor Hornung. The researchers identified this effect from the TIMSS data for countries with a majority Muslim population. In countries with a predominantly non-Muslim population, the performance effect was not evident. Therefore, it can be concluded that the effect of Ramadan on school performance in the medium term depends, among other things, on whether the majority of young people in the immediate environment also fasts.

The PISA data from eight European countries support these findings: In years with a longer daily fasting period, young people from Muslim homes catch up and reduce the existing gap to other students in the PISA test more than in years with a shorter fasting period. This effect is stronger in schools with a high percentage of Muslim students than in schools with a low share. "We interpret this as a further indication of the identity-forming effect of Ramadan, which has a positive impact on performance," concludes Erik Hornung.