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. bglen

    A typical study fudging the numbers. Exactly what did the 46% of college educated believers graduate in? Biblical studies from the esteemed Oral Roberts school on nonsense. Or better yet, Spanish and English majors. If you have any education, especially in a true discipline, you can quickly summize religion is nonsense. It is valid if you are at the 3rd grade level, how stories such as Noah and his little arc make sense. So, how did the Koala's just end up in just Australia anyway ....

    August 24, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • Peter

      @bglen. Is this really your argument here? They must not be truly educated if they go to church? And Koalas? Really?! I "summize" you don't meet your own standards.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • johnny b

      Answer Peter, bglen.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Dean

      Well, it isn't about 'Koalas', per se. The question is: How did Noah get *every* species of plant, animal, insect, protozoa, etc. onto the Ark – and if there were only two of each, how did they actually propagate and create such genetic diversity. Any *educated* person realizes that most species require many more individuals than two to make a viable population.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Gnodges

      it's a definite fudging of the numbers AND the interpretation. If you look objectively at this study ALL white people (regardless of education) are less religious now then they were in the 1970's. That should be the headline.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  2. Mark

    Another religious propaganda trying to make it seem cool to be a church goer. As far as my own experience, those who are more educated are less religious.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Paul

      Actually that's statistically proven, too.

      This article doesn't differentiate between "religious" and "nonreligious", it just says "those who are religious and attend church less are usually less intelligent."

      It's sad, really, to see an agenda being pushed like this, and also how easily it's fooling so many people who fail to use common sense regarding these statistics.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  3. CRD

    This is a clear example of controlling the masses through the media because the information in this article is completely not true.

    Education teaches science and theory...there is rarely ever any mention of God. Sometimes the most difficult book to find in a university library is the Holy Bible. Crazy!

    August 24, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  4. Paul

    Hahaha it missed the VERY important statistic that the less educated are more likely to be religious at all than the educated... and just attempts to fool the idiots and skirt around that point by talking about "how often those who are religious attend church".

    August 24, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Less educated Americans have less education

      It's called "lying with statistics."

      August 24, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • Eric R

      Precisely. This article has an obvious agenda.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  5. andybud

    Maybe, since they're not getting jobs in the downturn, and their lives are not turning out as they expected, they are realizing there is no loving Baby Jesus looking out for them and that religion is a crock. Good for them. That's an extra 60-90 minutes a week they can spend doing something productive and useful for their future.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  6. Not All Docs Play Golf

    We need to differentiate the separate ideas of more educated people being CHURCH GOERS, versus them really being BELIEVERS. The study was about church attendance. The more educated have a harder time not questioning blind faith, and probably have a lot of doubt, but attend church out of social expectations, in order to make their car dealership or whatever business, successful in their community. They just don't admit that's why they don't believe but attend.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Saboth

      @Mark from Middle River

      Except...he hit it right on the head. Many highly educated people are also "pillars of the community". They can't be seen by their peers as Godless heathens, so they attend church to keep the peace and appearance while having fellowship with their comrades.

      Christians love to make believe that they are modern day pariahs due to their beliefs, but in reality they are in the majority. The atheists are the ones that are truly ostracized in our society. Why would a highly successful social butterfly want to stand out in their town as a dreadful atheist?

      August 24, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  7. Ferit

    fails to mention the less educated are more likely to be church goers in the first place.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • God is Crap

      THANK YOU!

      August 24, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  8. Nick

    This one study is extremely misleading because while these statistics MAY be true, it fails to mention that many studies have shown that the MOST educated individuals are dramatically slanted toward being non-religious, whether it is agnosticism or atheism. I stress MAY be true for this study because it seems to fly in the face of the vast majority of studies on this topic. I would question the funding for this study as every other study I have seen over the last decade on this topic have all shown conclusively that the more a person is educated, the less likely they are to be religiously affiliated. The uneducated are more likely to cling to religious beliefs than the higher educated because of the lack of reasoning skills and tendency to question and examine our own beliefs that education gives us. I don't really believe this study at all.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  9. Lostraven

    Whoever conducted this study, sure didn't do much in the way of research. Had they done that, they would have discovered that most of America's lower middle class and working poor, have to work on Sunday's. Right there is a clear indicator that whoever conducted this study, is out of touch with reality these days. There is also the very real problem that many have lost their faith, after being shafted a few to many times even though they prayed their little hearts out.
    As for their suggestion that educated persons are more religious, they missed there as well. How many educated people did they speak to, that they didn't find in a church? Define exactly what an educated person is? Having a degree, does not mean that someone is educated. A person can become educated in many ways that has nothing to do with attending school. Living life, learning it's lessons and simply reading, can and will give a person a better education then most universitys can.

    On a personal note, I've never understood the bible thumpers and their belief in God, and all the things God, was able to do such as create the heavens and earth in seven days, yet if you ask most they'll tell you that they don't believe in magic. Go figure.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Matteo

      "universities" is the plural form. spell-check works wonders for uneducated people.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • cocoloco

      Go back to school, uneducated ad may be you'll find the LORD and won't end up in hell!

      August 24, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  10. Bobby

    This is good news..... a little less opiate for the masses

    August 24, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  11. G C Frisby

    Upon graduation from high school you receive a diploma ... not a degree.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  12. Mark from Middle River

    >>>"fundamentalist atheist, eh?"

    Wow, great term. I have to agree with the agnostic on this one. Every so often studies like this, do come out and each side is either cheering or crying foul.

    It is no surprise that today it is the Atheist who are weeping over this test. It paints a picture that is not favorable.

    Personally I think that the earthquake scared the Belief Blog editors. They must be based out of Mineral VA.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  13. Not All Docs Play Golf

    An often unacknowledged factor is that so many people (and this might explain why the more educated/afluent) attend church as a social norm, doing what is expected of them if they want their insurance business to be successful, their car dealership successful, etc. So, the attending by the more educated (more affluent) is in part their following the prosperity gospel. It's all about following the social script necessary for success in busines.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Wow, so it can never ever be because of a Faith in God. I guess for a fundie Atheist there has be any reason just not the fact of the educated Faithful 🙂

      Grasping at straws my friend.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  14. Duce

    Study: The less educated attend church.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  15. George

    It was C.S. Lewis who said that part of satans plan is to keep the mind uneducated, that way it is less likely to entertain thoughts about something it cannot see.

    George M.D.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Saboth

      You know, one of my conspiracy theories is Republicans purposely divert money from education in order to dumb down America, leading to more religious people, leading to more Republicans.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      CS Lewis started as a rational non-believe, then later became a believer. I think if he had lived long enough he would have come full circle and once again embraced reason.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  16. Rick

    It shows that sticking with God is a wise decision

    August 24, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Good Bless the Illuminati

      Based om WHAT, exactly?

      August 24, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Paul

      No, it shows if you choose to be religious, at least sticking to that works.

      This article says absolutely nothing about non-believers.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
  17. Muneef

    Very interesting really and it does explain now how those here rejecting God being less educated !!? Well for the Holy Quran it does mention that only people of intelegance would recognize his existence...after all the Blind is not as equal as those who can see...nor the deaf is equal to that can hear...!!!

    August 24, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • Good Bless the Illuminati

      Spell check much?

      August 24, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Muneef

      Did Albert Einstein Believe in a Personal God?
      by Rich Deem
      However, it would also seem that Einstein was not an atheist, since he also complained about being put into that camp:

      "In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views."5

      "I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangements of the books, but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the att-i-tude of even the most intelligent human being toward God."6


      August 24, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  18. Good Bless the Illuminati

    Can we just agree here that, even though religion has no basis in anyting rational, that peole are free to believe whatever they think will help get them through the day?

    August 24, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  19. George


    August 24, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  20. Bj

    I bet they're democrats too.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      That sounded pretty uneducated.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Good Bless the Illuminati

      Didn't quite earn that high school diploma, did you, bj?

      August 24, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
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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.