August 11th, 2011
11:06 AM ET
Study: More educated tend to be more religious, by some measures
By Jim Kavanagh, CNN
People tend to become less religious as they become more educated, right? Not necessarily, according to a new study.
After analyzing data from a large national survey, University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist Philip Schwadel found that people actually tend to become more religious - by some definitions, at least - as they further their education.
“It all falls down to what you consider to be religious,” said Schwadel, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “If it’s simply attending religious services, then no. Highly educated people are not less religious; in fact, they’re more religious.”
“But if it’s saying the Bible is the literal word of God and saying that only one religion is the true religion, then they are less religious,” he continued.
Schwadel used data from the highly regarded General Social Survey, a cumulative and nationally representative survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago biannually since 1972.
Social scientists rely heavily on the “gold standard” General Social Survey, which provides cumulative data collected regularly between 1972 and 2010.
His study will be published in an upcoming edition of the journal Review of Religious Research.
Schwadel found that with each additional year of education:
- The likelihood of attending religious services increased 15%.
- The likelihood of reading the Bible at least occasionally increased by 9%.
- The likelihood of switching to a mainline Protestant denomination - Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian USA or United Methodist - increased by 13%.
Respondents to the General Social Survey were asked whether they believe in God without any doubts; with various levels of doubt; whether they have a different concept of God or a higher power; or whether they didn’t believe in any such thing, Schwadel said.
“With more years of education, you aren’t relatively more likely to say, ‘I don’t believe in God,’” he said. “But you are relatively more likely to say, ‘I believe in a higher power.’”
The findings makes sense to D. Michael Lindsay, president of Gordon College in Massachusetts and author of “Faith in the Halls of Power,” about the growing evangelical Christian elite.
“The more educated a person is in their faith, the more cosmopolitan they are in their religious outlook,” he said. “They’re worldly in the very best sense of the term. They rub shoulders with people of different kinds of faiths every day and as a result they have different visions of what it means to express your faith in the public square.”
“They’re more open-minded, but here’s the thing: They’re no less faithful.”
But a leading voice for atheists says the study’s finding about education increasing certain measures of religiosity may be less straightforward than it appears.
“There are plenty of people who go to church who are not believers,” said Ed Buckner, former president of the group American Atheists. “They go for all sorts of reasons. I don’t mean that they’re all frauds and deceptive, (but) they go for social reasons or (because) that’s what’s expected of them by their families or their peers. Sometimes they go so they can sell more insurance.”
“But there are a lot of atheists in the pews, or at least people who are not committed to and probably haven’t even thought about and examined carefully the religious views that are being expressed in that church.”
The finding that highly educated people gravitated toward mainline Christian denominations suggested class dynamics at work, Buckner argued.
As people become more educated, he said, they move into the middle and upper middle class. “And as they do so,” he said, ”they move into more establishment situations regarding the society, which means they join the churches that are the churches of the elite, or at least of the middle class.”
But Schwadel said respondents were discussing their actual beliefs, not just churchgoing habits.
“What it all says to me is that religion matters to people of all education levels in the United States,” he said. “It’s just that, depending on your level of education, you behave and believe differently.”
So why the widespread perception that intellectuals are less religious, even largely irreligious?
Academics are at least moderately less religious than the general public, Schwadel said.
“When we see these trends, we tend to exaggerate them,” he said. “Most people see a trend and they think everyone’s like that.”
Lindsay thinks there’s more to it than that.
“There has been a concentrated effort by a cohort of very smart people who treat religion as the panacea for the simple-minded,” he said.
Bucker disputes that.
“Do we think that anybody who doesn’t agree with us is an idiot or a fool? Well, some of us do think that,” he said of atheists. “But I don’t think it’s systematically true of everybody in the movement.
“… I mean, I do think they’re wrong. Anybody who believes that there is a sky god out there who is going to do anything good or evil for us, basically anyone who thinks the universe cares about us, is making a mistake,” he continued. “In the words of Richard Dawkins, they’ve been deluded.”
But some people’s religious beliefs are “deeply held and carefully considered,” Buckner said. “And I also realize that some atheists’ lack of religious beliefs are pretty superficial and they haven’t thought things through.
“I have a lot more respect for a religious person who has really considered this, thought it through, read some books that disagree with their point of view and still accepts that position than I do for somebody who just unthinkingly rejects any particular point of view.”
Lindsay said the study could help break down some of society’s religious barriers.
“It’s a problem of perceptions because it fuels the idea that there’s some kind of deeply entrenched culture war where smart people are opposed to religious people, when in fact it’s far more complicated than that,” he said. “And in fact, the old divisions between deeply religious and irreligious probably don’t apply.”
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Too many people are confusing this with 'The religious are more educated'. There is a huge difference between the two.
The Bible satisfies the highest intelligence of mankind and is far beyond that. But it also says, educated or uneducated, one needs a child-like faith in the God-sent Savior to receive every good thing God intends for a human being. Such trust is the mark of the true honest creature. Secular Americans are too puffed up ignorantly. I think hell means missing out the heaven because of pride. Read C.S. Lewis.
Good point, Faith.
God is imaginary. Even if there is a god, the sheer idiotic idea that any human would EVER be able to understand the mind of any being so advanced is just arrogant and childish. There is no reason any such being would even remotely care about us. None.
Melissa – the statement about God not caring implies that you would know the mind of God. I don't believe those of us who believe in a higher power claim to understand the mind of said higher power. You don't believe in God, but you tell us who do that if there is a God that he is not who we believe him to be. That is an opinion. Since you cannot prove God does not mean he is not. 50 years ago we could not prove the idea of the internet, dark energy, dark matter, or string theory. You have a faith to not believe, while I have a faith to believe. We are in the same position.
Ritualistic Cannibalism ( drinking the blood of christ and partaking of his body)
Belief that a virgin gave birth ( come on, really !?!?)
Belief that a man rose from the dead ( really)
How about Santa Claus, do you believe in Santa Claus?; the Tooth Fairy?;easter bunny?
Just as much basis in empirical evidence as Christianity.
Academics are specialists in their own field. It never means they know God or morally better. The same reason the wisdom of a secular Ph.D person can never beat that of his godly grandmother. The reason the self-smart mankind this century and last century mostly contributed to polluting the planet. The human cleverness is nothing to God. Read Romans.
God gave us pain, science gave us anesthetics.
God gave us sickness, science gave us antibiotics
Generalizing that 'most' people in a faith or non-faith demographic are more 'educated' is moot. Correctness is not determined by majority numbers. Anyone who is honest will admit that there are plenty of intelligent and ignorant individuals in both camps. What this article says to me is that we need to think twice before we conclude that the guy who does not share my point of view is necessarily not as thoughtful as I am.
Belief has very little to do with intelligence or education, I've found. The most intelligent people can believe the most inane things.
For instance, if you believe the Bible, you must believe in giants and talking donkeys. You must be okay with a god who, at times, makes Hitler look like a giggling schoolgirl.
Intelligence and education don't always illuminate: sometimes they merely give people a way to process that stuff, to classify it as "metaphorical" or "allegorical".
Otherwise, who'd read that ridiculous, blood-soaked old book?
"Intelligence and education don't always illuminate:"
Many atheists confirm this as well
There certainly is a social aspect to any religious gathering, from Sunday morning mass at the Catholic church to the baptism of a child in a Lutheran church to the summer solstice ritual of a Pagan group, etc...and for some the gathering of people for peaceful and familiar activity is comforting.
I can't fault anyone of any level of education for wanting that...and honestly, I think that if you were to sit down and discuss actual beliefs with these people, you would find that while they believe in something other, they are not literally bound to the same interpretation of that other as those with whom they share that social connection.
And also the religious(Christians) are better-looking! All my American Christian friends were far more beautiful in outlook and better-dressed than models and stars.
hahaha... ok, i apologize for even taking the time to answer some of your previous posts... i thought dialog was maybe possible (given how much you claim to value 'thinking'), but i now see the errors of my ways...
at least you make me laugh, thanks for the entertainement.
Can you send me this bible you speak of? The one I have is completely opposite of everything you just stated.
@Laughing, don't lie. You have no Bible. Repent.
@Faith: It is such a shame the judgements you pass on others and hide behind your faith to do so. You do your religion and your God a major discredit.
Do you instantly become more beautiful the moment you start praying? I could definitely see a makeup company capitalizing on this... selling blessed creams and holy eye liner. This cologne is what god would have used!
now *this* is *definitely* a factual statement...:) OH, wait...then there's that pesky "bible belt"...
@Faith: Ok so now I totally get that you're demonstrating Poe's Law. I should have got it sooner! LOL!
By the way, educaiton =/= intelligence. You can be a medical doctor and boardline retarded if you do enough work.
Now isn't that the truth? 🙂
I agree. Just because someone is a doctor, doesn't mean they are intelligent. Just educated. They could have graduated in the bottom half of the class. I have found that more "intelligent" people are atheists. Less intelligent people actually believe in some sort of god. I wish I did believe in a god as it would make it easier to have someone to blame for all the crap that happens. I don't believe in a god, so I have to take credit for all the bad things that have happened to me.
Q: What do you call a medical student who graduates last in his/her class?
The Bible content is amazing, but the whole structure alone is totally amazing. It's meticulously systematic and the findings are never-ending. The Bible is more complex than a cell, a human body or even the entire universe.
The bible is complex than the entire universe? say whaaaa?
The Bible is a collections of writings in a book. Even if it had the world's most complex structure, how it beats the universe (not the world, ladies and gentemen, but the universe!!), that's an explanation i want to hear... for fun...
i was about the enumerate some of the wonders of the universe, but again, given your handle "Faith", i suspect logic and proof is not something you understand (even though you claim to).
That just simply isn't true...
let's be honest Faith....the Bible was not put together under a centuries long plan. It was collected by individuals and put together upon common theological ideals. It is complex...but so are many other collections in literature.
la la la la butterflies......
The bible is invented by mankind. It is not amazing. It was written by a bunch of sheep herders who thought the earth was flat and it promotes selling your daughter into slavery. Try actually reading it sometime.
Since the Bible is a component of the universe, your claim is self-contradictory. But then, so is just about everything else you are saying, once logic is applied. I wonder if you are really a Christian, or a spiteful atheist cleverly succeeding in making Christians look ignorant and unintelligent.
C'mon Faith! Think about it. A single chromosome of a single cell is FAR more complicated than a stack of bibles.
I don't really know what you mean. The Bible is a collection of outdated rules for mediteranean jews, combined with a heavily edited list of stories that contradict each other regarding each person's experience with Jesus. Originally there were hundreds of gospels. It was only edited down to the 4 by the clergy hundreds of years after his death, because taken as a whole, it made no sense. So they (humans) edited it, rewrote portions... and then a few centuries later it was edited by King James again!
The 'complexity' you are seeing, is the condratictory stories of individual people... hardly the Word of God.
I'd like to see the numbers of the study and the details please. Where is this published.
I could in fact be wrong about God or christianity. I just haven't heard a good argument why I should believe. Most of the arguments I have heard could easily be applied to any other God.
If Christians are so much smarter, why is it that they are unable to provide a logical reasoning behind their belief?
Because it's a faith-based system. It requires belief beyond your own senses and reason. Christianity is never, ever going to have scientific data to support it, because it goes beyond human understanding and deals with the spiritual.
As for the study, it hasn't been published yet. In the article it says, "His study will be published in an upcoming edition of the journal Review of Religious Research."
It's published: wwwDOTspringerlinkDOTcom/content/d67518t074881x06/
Possessing the Bible first and the Judeo-Christian values – the sole reason and cause of the Western Civilization's immortal superiority on Planet Earth. The Westerners would have been as barbaric and meaningless as anyone else if they had no Bible. Whoever gets the Bible conquers the planet for good. Mankind in all its history never produced anything even remotely close to the Bible, because it is the living Word of God.
Speaking of barbarism have you actually learned the history of your religion? Including that which is written in the Bible? Have you even paid attention to the actions of those same believers now? You can't lump all the horrible things that happen in the world on others, and the horrible actions of one Christian cannot be placed on all. However, what you can do is act in accordance to God's teachings which is to love each other. You sit there and judge others that are different from you when it is not your place to do so. If you truly believe what you say then get out of your house and your country and go help others.
The morality which is spoken of in the Bible is in all religions. And is common sense! You don't need need religion to have morality and Christianity is not the only driving force for morality to be obtained. If you truly want to reach people then you have to stop being narrow minded.
What you fail to understand is that its people like you that discredit your religion and your God because you get the wrong message across. Instead of focusing on your God and how wonderful He is you are focusing on the differences of others and downright disrespecting their way of life. Know your place Faith. As a Christian you should know that its God's place to judge all things and actions.
I would like to actually see the study. I'm not saying that it's wrong, but were these people who were still religious after the education, but just dialed it down from praying all the time and accepting everything to questioning their beliefs and forming their own opinion?
I would like to know if they started to go to church and read the bible more because they were faultering in their views or if they actually did become more religious.
Throughout college I became less religious (albeit I wasn't very religious to begin with) but I have a friend that did the complete opposite and became way more religious. My point is, I would like to actually see the study to know what it's really saying.
I would also like to know what these educated people graduated in. I just don't see an english major losing their religion as much as a physics major.
The article said they believed the article in a less literal sense. The more educated religious people probably believe a lot like me. They are religious but read the Bible in the context of science and history, and do a little bit more exploring into what they believe.
That's kinda my point, some people would say that you were more religious because you have more of a personal relationship with god, others would say your less because you strayed from taking the bible as literally as many people do.
I would just like to better know the definition that they used in this study. I also would like to know more of the background of these people. The point is, they can leave out a little information here and there and swing the study the way they want. I'm not saying they did, but they very well could have.
I can see why someone in the science field would not be religious. Basically what religion says is that there is some higher power that cannot be observed or tested and that no scientific experiment could prove whether or not it was true.
@ Atheist and JW "Basically what religion says is that there is some higher power that cannot be observed or tested and that no scientific experiment could prove whether or not it was true."
Did either of you "observe the 'big bang'? Can you test it or recreate it? What experimnet did you conduct to prove it true?
Even Richard Dawkins admits that he cannot rule out the possible existence of God. If you doubt that, watch Ben Stein's "Intelligence Not Allowed" video.
Evolution cannot be tested nor can it be recreated in a lab. It is only a theory and will so remain, an unprovable theory. Therefore, belief in one or the other is simply what it is, belief, faith, in something that you can never see, at least not in this life. One gives hope for a life to come, one gives no hope, at all. If I'm right and I have faith enough, I and gain everything and you lose....everything. If you are right I have lost nothing and, what was you gained, again?
I don't not believe because I gain something out of it. I don't believe because it just doesn't make sense to me. The big Bang makes sense, it could mathematically happen, evolution makes sense, you can see it in slight diversities of species around the world. God does not make sense, you can't even show that his existance is possible other than through faith, everything else is at least shown possible through mathematics.
Haime52: "If I'm right and I have faith enough, I and gain everything and you lose....everything."
Pascal's Wager, Haime, thoroughly refuted - look it up.
Haime52, “Intelligence Not Allowed” is a hack job, told in a highly biased, facile way. It’s not a good reference for anyone, other than seeing how weak the argument for “intelligent design” is.
“Evolution cannot be tested nor can it be recreated in a lab. It is only a theory—“ Stop. Right there. You have completely invalidated your argument. You obviously do not understand how science works. A scientific theory is not a guess or an opinion. Scientific theories tell you WHY or HOW something happened. Scientific laws tell you WHAT will happen. The Law of Gravity tells you that if you hold out a pencil and let go, it will fall to the ground. The Theory of Gravity tells you why that happens.
And yes, Pascal’s Wager is an incredibly weak argument for faith.
The Bible is so complex a school is needed to study it fully. In order to understand the Bible, one needed wide-ranged knowledge in all fields – languages, literary tech, history, math, logic, science and everything else. And Christian concepts expolde with the fine art masteries as well. Thus the Christendom alone develops everything academic and to the excellence. Christendom alone left the primitiveness of raw human civilizations. Furthermore, Christendom alone understood the importance of the God-given human dignity and freedom. Pagans repeated meaningless wars, but the Christian West had all the necessary wars to bring out the most needed advancement for every earthling.
OK, let me see if I understand your last point...you clain that Western Christendom is superior because it has used higher technology to kill people than previous pagan societies? Geez, too bad you weren't born 100 years ago; Hitler needed more people like you!
Daisy prays that one day everyone will find their hope and faith in the Almighty God!!!!
Keep praying, it'll work just as well as any other prayer.... NOT AT ALL!
You should pray that we have world peace. That is what I am going to do. I tried to get Faith to do it but she doesnt want world peace. She is going to pray that we never have world peace.
Laughing laughs at Daisy and then laughs some more
The fact that one denies the existence of God proves how smart one is...
care to elaborate?
Christians are all-time the smartest everywhere and they educated the world. Christendom ruled the world and made it civil. The secular West is going down.
OK, in case anybody had a remaining doubt, it is now official: Faith is a troll.
I think it is pointless to argue whether the religious or non-religious are more educated. I think it depends on the person. Everybody has a reasoning in their own mind of what they believe or don't believe.
I agree, J.W. There are uneducated, stupid religious people and there are uneducated, stupid non-believers. Making broad, sweeping generalizations is at best, dangerous at worst, simply wrong.
And there are some in both groups that are apathetic. Some atheists that just dont care about God and there are some religious people who believe in a certain way just because that is what they always have believed and they dont see a reason to change.
I don't think it's useless or pointless. I think it's important to narrow down the factors of how or why we believe what we believe. It might be a Herculean task but I think it would be important to know. If education has an effect (positive or negative) on what we believe that can tell us about what belief is, what faith depends on in human terms. I think anything that gets us closer to those answers must provide benefit in understanding humanity. Like the last part of the article says, if we understand where we get our faith it could break down barriers that keep us from recognizing our similarities.
Any prejudices or sweeping generalizations we create is a matter of how we use the data not a fault of the data itself.
This is interesting and a little disturbing. I have seen study after study showing that the smarter, more educated a person is, the less likely they are to believe in gods, ghosts and the other nonsense of religion. Oh well, I guess we atheists can only keep doing what we can to help elevate believers out of their dark superst.itions.
Tthe very fact that one denies the existence of God proves how smart one is...
Don't despair, Colin. I'd like to see what "attend a religious service" really means. Candlelight ceremony at the yoga studio maybe once a month for lots of people? And movement TO "mainline" Protestantism can only be accurately interpreted with knowledge of where the people moved FROM, which I strongly suspect is more literalist churches, not from agnosticism, atheism or even Deism. And we've known all along that the most fervent literalists often have read nearly none of the bible, whereas full blown atheists can be quite scholarly about it. I think the one clear thing is that the more educated one is, the less likely one is to adhere to naively literalist versions of ANY religion. If one remains open to spirituality at all, one may indeed become MORE spiritual, but the most spiritual people are typically the least orthodox within whatever religious tradition they ground themselves. Of course, others go on to reject spirituality altogether.
Thanks JR, good points. I'll come in from the ledge now.....
Robot, cough, Colin ...
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18
You should do something about that cough, sounds nasty. Maybe ask god to send you some advil or a lozenge or something
Do you non-believers even realize that you are missing your true self? You are so focused on the ways of the world you neglect the emotional aspect of Jesus’ teaching how to be the best that He wants us to be.
How sad for all you non-believers. This is why Christians pray that you get off that wide road you’re on and seek the narrow gate.
@ Heavensent thanks for using two bible verses and fitting them to suit your agenda. Next please?
HeavenSent, I would argue that most of the non-believers I know do a much better job of being nice to other people in general than do the Bible-thumpers I know. What's up with that? Are these the values of Jesus you're talking about?
What I find so interesting about said study is that it was done by a religious group FOR a religious journal. Now, IF it was done by a scientific group, held ONLY to the standards of scientific research, and NOT by someone with the NEED to make a point; I'd be more inclined to take it seriously.
I have been in higher education for 28 years, I have an undergraduate, two masters, and a PhD, and I haven't set foot in a church in over 20 years. I gave up my childhood belief in a sky god when I was ten even though I grew up in the Bible Belt. My colleagues in the area of science, math, and even medicine, all agree that there is no evidence of the existence of a personal god, and they find much more important things to do with their Sunday than to waste it in a church.
In 2008, intelligence researcher Helmuth Nyborg examined whether IQ relates to denomination and income..... they have also replied to questions about religious belief. His results, published in the scientific journal "Intelligence" demonstrated that on average, Atheists scored 1.95 IQ points higher than Agnostics, 3.82 points higher than Liberal persuasions, and 5.89 IQ points higher than Dogmatic persuasions.
"I'm not saying that believing in God makes you dumber. My hypothesis is that people with a low intelligence are more easily drawn toward religions, which give answers that are certain, while people with a high intelligence are more skeptical," says the professor.
Martin T, the only thing I got out of all that hot air you just spewed from your keyboard is that you, along with all your colleagues are walking talking spiritually dead robots who are not in touch with your emotions, hence, have NO concept of seeking your spiritual true self.
P.S. Degrees don’t make the man/woman, what they do with God’s love is all that lasts.
Don’t mean to burst that little bubble you live in Colin, but those tests are backdoor examinations to gage who in society has anti-social personalities in society. I wouldn’t act so proud to be a dry bones if I were you (LOL).
@Colin....ok, let me see something here:
1) "Oh well, I guess we atheists can only keep doing what we can to help elevate believers out of their dark superst.itions."
2) Just a little below it you referenced.."From Wikipedia"
You do realize that most colleges won't let their students use wikipedia as a reference. So much for elevating ppl eh?
Martin, faith is ABOUT believing in something you can't see. You have 2 Ph.D.'s, and it sounds like you have at least some background in science. Are there scientific theories you believe are true and are willing to accept as true, even though you can't actually see and understand every single component, equation, subatomic particle or factor incorporated into that theory? Aren't you taking at least some things on faith?
@Colin I read that as well. His measurements were about intelligence. I want to know what the correlation is to emotional maturity, personally. I think belief is more complex than what we know or facts we learn. I think it has an emotional component. In my mind it's very much like fear (sorry to choose a 'negative' emotion, believers) that cannot be relieved by logic or rationality. It can only be dispelled with an emotional connection. In other words, if I'm afraid to fly, stats about it being the safest way to travel or the competency of the pilot will only take me so far. I know from experience. But having a lucky charm or holding your partner's hand will help ease the fear more than any reasoning will. An emotion-based situation must be measured in terms of emotion. With belief also being linked to tradition, culture, fear of death etc, it's a no-brainer, I think to measure it that way.
Another stupid study meant to shore up a dying belief system. I can take ANY subject and spin it any way you want it. With today's population so ready accessible, it's easy.
Statements like yours give further credibility to the results of this study.
Very interesting article. Glad CNN put this up.
@Damian: Me too! It's fascinating and challenges our idea of where belief comes from. I wish there was a direct link to the study itself. And maybe some more information in the article itself though.
Also I wonder when we can expect the inevitable "Your Take" article! LOL!