Less-educated Americans are losing religion, study finds
The decline in church attendance among whites without college degrees is twice as high as for those with college degrees.
August 24th, 2011
03:17 PM ET

Less-educated Americans are losing religion, study finds

By Liane Membis, CNN

(CNN) - If you don't have a college degree, you’re less likely to be up early on Sunday morning, singing church hymns.

That's the upshot of a new study that finds the decline in church attendance since the 1970s among white Americans without college degrees is twice as high as for those with college degrees.

Study: More educated tend to be more religious

“Our study suggests that the less-educated are dropping out of the American religious sector, similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, who was lead researcher on the project.

The research, presented this week at American Sociological Association's annual meeting, found that 37% of moderately educated whites - those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges - attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s.

Among college-educated whites, the dropoff was less steep, with 46% regularly attending religious services in the 2000s, compared with 51% in the '70s.

The study focuses on white Americans because church attendance among blacks and Latinos is less divided by education and income.

Most religiously affiliated whites identify as Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews.

Lower church attendance among the less-educated may stem from a disconnect between them and modern church values, the study theorizes.

Religious institutions tend to promote traditional middle-class family values like education, marriage and parenthood, but less-educated whites are less likely to get or stay married and may feel ostracized by their religious peers, the researchers said.

The researchers expressed concern about the falloff in church attendance among the less-educated.

“This development reinforces the social marginalization of less educated Americans who are also increasingly disconnected from the institutions of marriage and work,” said Andrew Cherlin, co-author of the study and a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University.

Wilcox said that those who do not attend church are missing out on potential benefits.

“Today, the market and the state provide less financial security to the less educated than they once did,” Wilcox said. “Religious congregations may be one of the few institutional sectors less-educated Americans can turn to for social, economic and emotional support in the face of today’s tough times, yet it appears that increasingly few of them are choosing to do so.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Church • Polls

soundoff (1,621 Responses)
  1. chanel wallet

    Itˇs in point of fact a great and helpful piece of info. I am satisfied that you just shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.
    chanel wallet http://chanelwallet.overblog.com/

    October 27, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  2. jeans

    Magnificent submit, very informative. I'm wondering why the opposite specialists of this sector do not notice this. You must continue your writing. I am confident, you've a huge readers' base already!|What's Taking place i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I have discovered It absolutely helpful and it has aided me out loads. I am hoping to give a contribution & help different users like its aided me. Good job.

    April 8, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  3. acquistare winstrol

    Buona scrittura, io sono normale visitatore di religion.blogs.cnn.com, mantenere il funzionamento belle, e che sta per essere un assiduo frequentatore per lungo tempo.

    December 11, 2011 at 4:28 am |
  4. anabolizzanti in linea

    Sicuramente hanno alcune opinioni e punti di vista piacevole. religion.blogs.cnn.com offre uno sguardo nuovo verso il soggetto.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:07 am |
  5. Whatdidyousay

    Well church is not just for religion, it is also for networking. Most educated people have more money. Networking, social status, and perceived values are important to the richer people than the poor. Most church goers see atheists as evil when most church goers don't believe in God anymore.

    August 29, 2011 at 4:53 am |
  6. Mike p

    Get ready for the very soon rapture. Read "I am coming" by Susan Davis.

    August 28, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  7. Kelly Rafferty

    Funny, one would think it would be the MOST educated people who would be more likely to leave the church.

    August 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • V01D

      Leaving the church and leaving your religion are two different things.

      This survey specified that it was a study of the drop off of church attendance rates among the less educated, not a decline in religious faith itself. This article is a near perfect inversion of one that discussed how higher educated individuals attend church service more frequently. Two conclusions that can be reached from the exact same set of data and state nearly the same thing.

      The raving conspiracy theorist in me says it's part of a campaign to portray religion as the intelligent choice. The analytical rationalist in me says it's been a slow month for religion in the news and they're overstepping what the data actually suggests. This survey does not address a decline or increase in actual religious faith, merely church attendance. The less-educated could simply be working twice as hard at possibly multiple low-paying jobs. Church attendance isn't an option when you work two jobs and 70 combined hours per week to make a car payment. It was also suggested on the second article I mentioned that the larger portion of attendance by college-educated individuals could be a social function they enjoy for the interaction with others they might not necessarily see on a regular basis. It could also be a way to improve one's reputation within their small social community.

      August 28, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  8. Nimue

    There seems to be only one thought that is common to all religions; Love your neighbor as yourself . Yet most don't acknowledge it or fail to practice it . Do we need to have a degree and couldn't our religions start with that?

    August 28, 2011 at 5:45 am |
  9. Robert Hagedorn

    Is Saint Augustine's exegesis of the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Genesis correct? Do a search: First Scandal.

    August 27, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  10. John


    August 27, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  11. Mike O

    Two things. First, there are two reasons less educated people may be leaving the church (which actually sounds counter-intuitive to me). First, as someone pointed out earlier, they may very well be working harder, and thus have less time for church – they see it as an "add-on" to their life, or something "else" they "have to" do, so they stop. The 2nd reason I can think of off the top of my head is that less educated people may be more likely to think others "owe" them (not always true!!!) and since "going to church isn't making me richer" (an over-simplification, of course), then they may be more likely to say "what's the point." and quit. People with a higher level of education MAY tend to have more faith in others and as a result, see going to church more as an "enhancement" to their life rather than "something else I have to do."

    The second thing that jumps out is the idea that church is somehow adding ot the marginalization of the poor. That is plain illogical. Churches are struggling. Why, in God's name (pun intended) would they marginalize ANYBODY?? They need butts in seats more now than ever. Never mind the fact that churches are (supposed to be) here FOR the poor to find the help/rest/grace/support they need for their lives. I'm not saying the churches are actually doing that, but to say churches are marginalizing their "target audience" is insane. Yes, there *are* churches that marginalize the poor. But the church as a whole does not, and you can't to to any town and trhow a rock without hitting a church that would welcome the poor.

    August 26, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Physics-lite

      @ Mike O , CN77 & Andrew and [ALL ] Atheist
      Andrew’s Quote “It's not all that pointless, see while you would never be convinced that your bronze age mythological beliefs about the creation of the universe are wrong, since I can rebut (with peer reviewed journal articles no less) any claim you make, in rather stunning detail, those who are not so well versed on the subject who read the dialogue could be swayed to the side of science. It's for the benefit of others, not the already horribly misinformed.” End of Quote.
      A genius does what it must, to advance Mankind and
      Talented Intellectuals do just what their discipline allows.
      Discipline implies the teaching and enforcing of an acceptable patterns of behavior.
      Andrew; It is all in One’s Description and Everyone Else’s
      Interruptions over the Millennium.

      Here are some peer reviewed “Nobel Prize winners”, no less.
      You pick one or all, Sheldon Glashow, Steven Weinberg, Abdus Salam, Carlo
      Rubbia, Simon van der Meer, and last but not least Richard P. Feynman.

      All of the above “Nobel Winners” describe and illustrate their finding of
      millions of particle collisions in the same way.

      All of the elementary particles divide up into packets of photonic energy
      [light energy ] that Turns [or ferments,] into two or more sub-particles and
      some of the photonic energy [ light energy ] returns [or ferments,] back into
      the original elementary particles. It is called quantum electrodynamics/or QED

      The EM-fields of each particle defines the amount of light particles are in each
      particle or sub-particle. As the EM-fields collapse back. Andrew, you know QED

      “Let there be Light and let the light ferment and the light became fermented”& there was the Heavens and the Earth.

      August 27, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.