Taken from the 2020 Slate Star Codex Survey. SSC/ACX readers are a heavily-selected population and nothing about them necessarily generalizes to anyone who isn’t an SSC/ACX reader. But you are an SSC/ACX reader, so maybe they generalize to you. Most of these questions are heavily confounded by different types of people going to different schools. In a few cases, I’ve made feeble efforts to get past this, in other cases I haven’t tried. All of this is rough and weak, you don’t need to comment to tell me this.

Of about 8000 respondents, 70.8% (5,695) went to free government schools (US: “public school”), 12.1% (970) went to secular private-sector schools (US: “private school”), 11.3% went to religious private-sector schools, 3.1% (250) were home schooled, and 0.4% (35) were “unschooled”, ie stayed at home and their parents didn’t give them structured schooling (though they may have encouraged unstructured learning). Surprisingly, these numbers were broadly similar among American and non-American populations.

I looked at how this category associated with different outcomes, starting with:

1. How Satisfied Are People With Their Education And Their Lives?

I asked respondents how satisfied they were with their schooling:

Answer broken down by schooling type:

Government school: 5.63
Home school: 7.04
Religious school: 5.87
Private school: 6.44
Unschooling: 6.00

As an additional measure of educational quality, I also asked respondents their SAT scores. For verbal:

Public: 743
Home: 756
Religious: 751
Private: 758
Unschooling: 758

And for math:

Public: 743
Home: 722
Religious: 727
Private: 757
Unschooling: 688

Yes, these are the averages of hundreds or thousands of SAT scores in each cell. I told you that you were heavily-selected and weird. Given the level of selection effects, I’m not sure we can conclude much here.

I wanted to check how people from various schooling types did in life - we’ll get to confounders in a moment. Here’s current self-rated life satisfaction, 1 is bad, 10 is good:

Public: 6.56
Home: 6.72
Religious: 6.65
Private: 6.62
Unschooling: 6.03

Some people worry that home schooling will be bad for students’ social skills, so I also looked at social satisfaction (the question was “how happy are you with your social life?”, 1-10 rating). Results:

Public: 5.73
Home: 5.93
Religious: 5.92
Private: 6.00
Unschooling: 5.63

For a more objective measure of social success, I looked at what percent of people from each schooling type were still single (ie not married or in a relationship):

Public: 39%
Home: 44%
Religious: 37%
Private: 42%
Unschooling: 57%

(some standard deviations here)

2. How Do Confounders Affect These Numbers?

The confounders I’m most interested in are religion, social class, and age. I had questions about all of these, although unfortunately the religion question only asked about religion now and not during childhood:

Here are the percent from each schooling type who described themselves as currently being committed theists:

Public: 8.4%
Home: 28.8%
Religious: 20.1%
Private: 6.4%
Unschooling: 5.7%

Wow! Home schooling is even more religious than religious schools!

Here’s where members of each social class said they went to school:

Poor: 81% public, 5% home, 8% religious, 4% private
Working: 78% public, 5% home, 11% religious, 5% private
Middle: 75% public, 3% home, 11% religious, 9% private
** Upper-middle: **64% public, 2% home, 13% religious, 19% private

Rich: 42% public, 0% home, 16% religious, 39% private

Unschooling was too small a sample size for me to feel good including it.

Public: 33.5
Home: 29.1
Religious: 33.4
Private: 31.0
Unschooling: 28.2

Private and home-schooled children are slightly younger than publicly schooled children, maybe because those forms of schooling have been getting more common recently.

I’m concerned that the high levels of life and social satisfaction among home schoolers are just because they are extra religious, and religious people are known to have high life and social satisfaction because of, I don’t know, a sense of meaning and a good church community and so on. So I selected the subgroup of respondents who are currently atheist or agnostic. This doesn’t rule out that some of the home-schooled children will have been religiously home-schooled, but they’re probably not benefiting from a religious sense of meaning and good church community now.

Here’s how this group rated their satisfaction with their schooling:

Public: 5.63
Home: 6.62
Religious: 5.51
Private: 6.50
Unschooling: 5.75

Here’s what life satisfaction looks like among this subgroup:

Public: 6.49
Home: 6.33
Religious: 6.53
Private: 6.56
Unschooling: 6.29

Now it’s lower! On to social satisfaction:

Public: 5.66
Home: 5.63
Religious: 5.85
Private: 5.96
Unschooling: 5.64

About the same for public and home; private and religious seem slightly higher. On to percent single:

Public: 40.4%
Home: 48.6%
Religious: 41.1%
Private: 42.0%
Unschooling: 50%

This looks pretty bad for home schooling. But remember, the average home schooled person is 29, compared to 33 for public school. In this subgroup, they’re even younger - the average atheist/agnostic home schoolee is about 27.8.

Does the rate of being in a relationship grow with age quickly enough to matter? In this group, yes! I was very surprised how much of an effect age has on relationship status; in their early 20s, about 70% of readers were single, compared to about 40% in their early 30s and 15-20% in their early 40s. I don’t know if this is a general social phenomenon or an SSC/ACX phenomenon in particular.

On average we would expect 27.8 year olds to be 43% single, and 33 year olds to be 34% single. If I were competent I would do a regression here - but just eyeballing it, it looks like a big enough difference to explain the full public vs. home school relationship status difference. I’m not that willing to draw conclusions on the life satisfaction data either, based on home schoolees generally being poorer.

3. How Does Schooling Associate With Nonconformity?

Finally, I looked at a few questions that seem like potential measures of nonconformity or “weirdness”, to see if some kinds of schooling make you more conformist than others. Here’s percent of people from each type who have changed their gender (warning - low sample size):

Public: 2.4%
Home: 3.2%
Religious: 1.7%
Private: 3.0%
Unschooling: 2.9%

I thought this was funny in the context of the conservative concern that public schools are encouraging woke gender ideology, although realistically most of these people are in their 20s and 30s and conservatives weren’t as concerned about schools doing this twenty years ago. Despite their reputation for nonconformity, home schoolees aren’t much more likely to be transgender than private schoolees, although maybe this is because many more home schoolees are religious. There wasn’t enough of a sample size to restrict this one to atheists.

Here’s percent of people who have used psychedelics 5+ times:

Public: 12.4%
Home: 7.6%
Religious: 9.1%
Private: 11.6%
Unschooling: 8.6%

Here there were arguably enough people to restrict it to atheists/agnostics (for example, 16 home schoolees who had done this), but this just raised the home schooling rate up to 11.5%, still a bit below the public school rate. Home schoolers are disappointingly non-weird, at least by this measure!

4. Tentative Conclusions

  • It looks like people enjoyed home schooling the most and public/religious schooling the least (though remember this sample is very enriched for libertarians and atheists, who might have their own reasons to dislike public/religious schooling!) I think this finding is pretty robust to confounders.

  • People here have way too high SAT scores for me to have strong opinions on how schooling affects them.

  • There was no robust tendency for home-schooled people to have worse social or romantic satisfaction - or to be less likely to have a relationship - than conventionally schooled people, although part of this is based on eyeballing something that should have been a regression, and someone else may want to do it more formally.

  • Unschooling doesn’t look very good; unschooled children have the lowest life, social, and romantic satisfaction, and are most likely to be single. Controlling for religion doesn’t change this much. Its one positive point is that children seem to like it more than public school, although still not as much as private or home schooling. But there are probably a lot of confounders in terms of what kind of parents practice it, a lot of different practices lumped together under “unschooling”, and a very low sample size. This finding isn’t very strong at all - but I find unschooling fascinating and I still think it’s worth studying even though all samples will necessarily be weak.

As always, you can try to replicate my work using the publicly available SSC Survey Results. If you get slightly different answers than I did, it’s because I’m using the full dataset which includes a few people who didn’t want their answers publicly released. If you get very different answers than I did, it’s because I made a mistake, and you should tell me.