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. makesPerfect Sense


    Less Educated = Athiests

    AHAHAHAHA I always knew it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 24, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • karlmarx11

      Not going to church doesn't mean someone is an atheist.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • atheist

      Thats because you're so smart and you know everything. Including the existance of talking snakes.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • Free

      And going to church doesn't mean someone is a real believer either, right? I still went regular as clockwork for years after I stopped believing. I still go on occasion. You have to think about how many non-believers get dragged to church by their spouses who are afraid of what the family or neighbors might think, or "for the sake of the children."

      August 25, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  2. Schoolgirl

    Could the reason for this drop off be simply that this group now mostly works in service jobs, and multiple ones at that, that require always working weekends?

    August 24, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  3. Mike

    How much you wanna bet this study was done by a religous group?

    August 24, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  4. MrHanson

    Albert Einstein said, “The man who regards his life as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life.”

    I guess the REAL message of material atheism hasn't sunk it yet for these people.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • budda

      And you think Einstein a man who wore the same style suit everyday so he did not have to think about anything else but his theories was talking about belief in a God? Ya Right

      August 24, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • *frank*

      It's odd that you seem to suggest meaning may only be found in a ghost.

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

      Why would atheism = life is meaningless? I tend more to the agnostic than outright atheist myself, but I find a lot of meaning in using my life to try to make things just a bit better for those who will come after me.

      August 25, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Stevie7

      Einstein was an atheist, genius. He wasn't talking about atheists.

      August 25, 2011 at 8:12 am |
  5. us1976

    Religious fanatics are scary, especially closed minded Christian Fanatics! I still can't understand how Jesus was the son of God then he became God...what exactly happen to the original God? God help me understand how millions of people believe this stuff!!!

    August 24, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  6. MrHanson

    In short, full-blown Darwinism, taken to its full extreme, denies what we know by experience to be true about humanity. Darwinism is an easy bludgeon to use against humanity to deny people the basic truths about ourselves we can all know from experience.

    The materialists are not about doing good science, they are about using pseudoscientific origins stories as a tool to neglect the value of people as people, and deny the mysteries of existence that we find ourselves in.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Perhaps you could dispense with the mystic ambiguous crap and be more clear about what these basic truths and mysteries of existence are?

      August 25, 2011 at 12:04 am |
  7. budda

    Absolutely Paul ! Not to mention they have been uncovered as hideouts for those with ulterior motives and deviations of the normal.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  8. Will

    This is a pretty misleading statistic. I don't doubt that it's true for all college educated Americans, but I also don't doubt that church attendance among people with masters, doctoral, or professional degrees hovers close to 0%. There isn't much difference these days between someone with no college and someone with only college but no graduate degree and I have a feeling that the study authors simply sifted through the data until they found a single statistic that supported their agenda. The fact of the matter is that GENUINELY educated people have more or less abandoned religion entirely.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • Paul

      Those are the circles I move in, and you are absolutely correct.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Paul

      Every college-educated person I know is either an agnostic or an atheist.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      Couldn't agree more, Will. I have a Master's degree, and I've never felt better about life than when I became an Atheist!

      August 24, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • smokesomthing

      you said it best, I'm in college plus a full fledged atheist...

      August 24, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Robrob

      The article certainly doesn't do a very good job explaining if the upward trend in religiosity continues with higher education or if it slopes off.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • MrHanson

      I guess I need to tell all the Doctors and specialists in my Christian care based hospital. I also know a Neurologist, Aeronautical Engineer, and a Electrical Engineer that attends my (smallish) church. The only reason you think it is 0% is because you want it to be.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Karen

      I know many college educated people with graduate degrees (including myself) who are very religious and attend church weekly. It seems that the more liberal your political views are the less likely you are to believe in God (not that all liberals are atheists, because they aren't). It also seems that many atheists who are leftists probably attended very liberal colleges and univsersities and are often taught by agnostic and atheist professors as well and are swayed to that point of view during a period of their lives when they are more easily influenced by their educators.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Free Thinker Seeking Reason

      It sure seems that way here, too. My wife and I both have master's degrees and have dumped religion into the history books where it belongs. The arguments typically appear with those with little or no college, as if accepting the mythology is easier for those who cannot think well for themselves.

      Unfortunately, there are still plenty of con artists out there pandering delusion to the masses. Education is actually the best antidote to this dilemma long term, so if a reaction to this study is to get people better educated on the myths of modern religions, then so be it. Perhaps that will jolt the more educated people who are still attending church to question why they're still bothering to do so. It's ironic from this study that one might draw the conclusion that the uneducated ones avoiding church are the smarter ones, but that's because the article says nothing about well educated people who don't go to church on principle or non-believers generally. Once again, shame on CNN for spreading the woo...

      August 24, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  9. Or How About This...

    I don't care if your rich or poor, smart or dumb, Christ doesn't make His opinion of you based upon your financial or educational status. Don't let a statistic hurt your view on God, because He doesn't paint by numbers. He did many of His miracles amongst the poor and needy because there was no distraction holding their attention. The rich were even told their love of finances would inhibit them from entering into His kingdom, because it took the place of where He should be in the human heart: first.

    Being wealthy and educated is not bad, but don't say that it the reason why you can stay in church. Your love of Jesus and what He has done in your life and doing in others' lives should keep you faithful to God's house. Unless your church is dead. In that case, find a church where God is moving (probably where the full Gospel is preached, actually, no, DEFINATELY where the Gospel is preached and lived by truely), and seek Christ there.

    Doesn't matter how rich or brainy the people are. Or at least it shouldn't be.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • John

      Direct quote from the book:

      "...I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
      Jesus Christ.

      Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:24-25, and Luke 18:24-25

      August 24, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • Gnodges

      sorry, buddy, but there is no such thing as a direct quote from Jesus....LOL.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Gnodges

      That would be like me writing a book about George Washington, and quoting him directly 200 years after he died.....crazy, right?

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

      John, actually, Jesus says RIGHT after that, "What is impossible for man is possible with God." NO ONE can save themselves and NO ONE deserves more than anyone esle to be saved. But God has mercy on us all through His Son Jesus Christ if we respond to His amazing and undeserving love appropriately by believing, repenting, trusting, and living for Him. NONE of us deserves salvation.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Gnodges

      Holy crap, PLB, you know what Jesus said RIGHT AFTER THAT.....wow. Was that on a Tuesday?

      August 24, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  10. Terry - Indiana

    Throughout history, we find evidence that religious men (not women) wrote and rewrote various aspects of the bible to suit the current leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. The Christian Church battle cry is "Give us your money and we will put in a good word for you when we next speak to God". They do not even offer a set of steak knives when selling religion to the masses.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • Saboth

      What??? No way. The Bible is the literal Word of God! No way would He allow shysters to re-write His book to suit political purposes while also excluding texts they didn't agree with. Oh wait, you say there is proof? /asplode

      August 24, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • PLB

      I can respect most of these opinions. However, the manuscripts of the biblical texts far precedes the catholic church.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • PLB

      sorry, correction. I meant to say the "Roman Catholic Church." The "Catholic Church" just means universal church (the world-wide body of believers over all time).

      August 24, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  11. Ganymede

    This is because educated people know for a fact that the earth is a disk supported upon the back of four giant elephants who in turn stand upon the back of a giant tortoise. When the elephants move, we have earthquakes. Sic Probo.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • Gnodges

      4 giant elephants? Blasphemy....everyone knows it was 3 elephants. You will suffer eternal damnation unless you repent, and admit it was 4 elepahts...do you hear me?

      August 24, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Gnodges

      wait, I mean 3 elephan....oh, never mind....off with his head!

      August 24, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  12. Paul

    Most religious people that I know have never really read the Bible. For example, there is no mention of abortion in the bible, but it does say that anyone who does not observe the Sabbath should be stoned to death. Organized religion has been the excuse for the massacring of untold millions of people during the past 3500 years. Ancient pagan religions were tolerant of each other's gods. It's only with the rise of monotheism that people believed they had the right to slaughter others who believed their god was not the only one. In addition, you have to stand on your head to believe the claptrap fables that are in holy books, most of which were written before the birth of science and are totally at odds with fact.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Gnodges

      Wait, are you trying to tell me that people didn't put saddles on dinosaurs and ride them?!

      August 24, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  13. The Jimster

    Common guys, can't we all get along. Whenever there's a new article somewhat relating to religion, atheists bombard the comments area with insults while believers attempt to defend their BOOK with subtle arguments. As an atheist and a former Christian, I can see both sides:

    1) One claims it knows the truth while the other lashed back with scientific claims many can't defend themselves.
    2) One claims they know true religion while the other states that religion ideologies are false and dangerous.

    It isn't religion that that destroys families, causes extremism, etc,,,IT'S DISHARMONY. When were not on the same page, things occur...We'd most likely live happily ever after if we were all ATHEIST or if we were all CHRISTIAN, MUSLIM, etc...If both sides are insulting each other, what are we to accomplish? If we can't stay on the same page, why not ATTEMPT to live peacefully among each other.

    I have nothing against the religious or religion itself. I merely made the choice to follow/promote rational thought and an everlasting thirst for knowledge, and I'm content with that. Most of my friends are religious and we're cool with each others. We must learn to see past our differences and love each other.

    AND, by the way...atheists who comment sound so ominous and jerk-like; you'll never accomplish anything with your negative approach...and the Christians who comment must stop posting biblical passages loose supporting their claims...It hurts to see people fight...I truly hope we'll fully integrate one day...

    August 24, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • normalice

      yes, but religion causes disharmony. The very essence of religion is moral relativity. There is only one common moral everyone should find it easy to agree on: don't hurt each other. As a species, this should be an instinctive trait in all of us, but religion corrupts this very simple concept by introducing many "morals' in addition to, or even taking precedent over, basic human decency. When two people believe different things but are also told they are allowed to believe they are better than the other for believing their thing, disharmony is unavoidable.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • heliocracy

      I have no objection to religious people until they get the idea that their beliefs should be legislated so that I must adopt their religion or be a criminal. And it's not always even as overt than that..their desire to force me to adopt their beliefs causes them to vote for political leaders who disrespect the rights of non-Christians and atheists, and who, at the same time, happen to subscribe to an economic philosophy that willfully disadvantages those who work and are middle- and working-class. If find that irrational in more ways than one. Religious people are being courted by the GOP in order to obtain an electoral advantage to make it possible to enact their economic agenda, which disadvantages me and most regular Americans, and those that vote for it are not smart enough to realize they're being played. To me, if the religious were a smarter bunch, my entire country would be a better place for most people to live. That's my objection.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      Jimster, thank you for an excellent post! Total agreement!

      August 24, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  14. Rodolfo Ramos Jr,

    Since every statistic cited in this article refers to the religion and education of "whites" i have absolutely no faith in anything is states and neither should you.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  15. Jesus Is Lord

    Jesus is the answer. He is the ONLY way to the Father in Heaven. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, repent, obey and be saved!

    August 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Giant1

      If I don't believe now, how can I make myself believe?

      August 24, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Bippy, The Lesser Squirrel-God Of Rapped Polka

      Do not be fooled by this fraud named Jesus! All true believers who believe in the truth know that Mud-Mud the Dancing Hippo Divinity is the one true God, and you better obey before you spend the rest of eternity in the Lake Of Hippo Guano!

      We know this for a fact, because of the ancient scriptures written on 12 petrified cow pies which the Heavenly Angel DumDum hid in the desert near Winnemucca for the Prophet Edna Pimples to find. Very few have seen these divine relics, and it is understood that you must be divinely inspired to be able to read Mud-Mud's scriptures upon them – it will look like dung to heathens.

      You must believe in Mud-Mud, give him your complete faith or he will punish you forever in his Great Hippo-Flatulence Sauna, which you do after your time in the Eternal Lake of Hippo Guano. Kid of a spa treatment for lost souls.

      So believe! BELIEVE! And send money now! Operators are standing by.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Terry - Indiana

      Did they give you a set of steak knives?

      August 24, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Gnodges

      You know, I think Mud Mud had it right....

      August 24, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Gnodges

      It's funny, basically you are living as an organism who has perfectly evolved and adapted to live on this earth, and nowhere else in the universe (basically, the Earth is heaven), and you're wasting your time in heaven, by being so obsessed with a supposed next life that doesn't exist......ironic.....oh well, good luck with that god thing, Hoss.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
    • opinionguru

      "...the word of GOD is folly to those that are perishing..."

      August 25, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  16. well.....

    Koala's can't survive anywhere else...... it's natural for ALL beings to preserve their life. Hence why Antartica isn't full of anyone and Africa isn't full of albinos. Just sayin.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Gnodges

      Jesus, Dood, Koalas didn't try out different areas and then decide on Australia becasue they couldn't make it anywhere else....they have evolved and adapted to their environment.....same with penguins......same with you, although your last post may not show it.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  17. pimpson

    Wonder what the dopey atheists are gonna say now... lmao.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • Matt

      I have seen many studies that have reported the exact opposite findings.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • LOL @ U

      You chose "son of a pimp" as a name and you think atheists are dopey?

      August 24, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • Terry - Indiana

      One thing for sure, they have more of their hard earned money, and they were not assaulted by their pastor.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • antegrav

      It's all in the marketing. Churches are moving to the suburbs, where poor people can't get to them, just as hospitals are. If you don't have access to a car, then you don't have enough money to go to church (or the hospital). Another point to consider is that (especially among middle class whites) a college degree doesn't make you any smarter. The survey doesn't test their IQ, it simply asks if they have a degree. I'm an atheist, but I am saddened by this data because it means we are losing one more type of community cohesiveness which is going to be very important during collapse of this paper-based economy. There are reasons for gathering in churches other than worship, and most of the people who DO attend church don't take the bible very seriously. The ones that take it too seriously haven't actually understood it (even if they have read it many times).

      August 25, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  18. budda

    Beware of those who preach for they are the biggest sinners! Just take a look at what we have all seen unfold over the last 20 yrs or so from all the churches. I was an alter boy once and listened to many a sermon that I thought a much more holy and good person was delivering than I. Now I feel,if I am to burn in hell for my trivial sins? These people will be the firewood that cooks me!!!

    August 24, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • MJS

      Those who are not ill do not need a physician.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • opinionguru

      Not all Churches.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  19. Wesley

    The less educated in many respects are probably bound by crazy hours at their jobs such as Wal-Mart, or any other conceivable position in which less opportunity exists. -Bless these people for they are the ones that really do back breaking, frustrating labor.

    That being said, I have also seen right the opposite, that people with higher degrees sometimes have a harder time putting faith first in their life.

    -to anyone who will hear(read) and understand, Jesus Christ IS the son of God, and the only one that can help you. For there is no other name given unto Man for the forgiveness of Sin. God has a divine plan for your life. No, there is no magic wand, and you most likely will NOT will the lottery, but praying every morning "God, I want to put You first, will change your life forever.

    I have personally found this to be true. But hey, who am I?


    August 24, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • *frank*

      no. just no.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • LarryInBama

      You are a brainwashed individual, my friend. It most likely started when you were too young to understand what was happening to you. By the time you realized what your parents and pastors were doing to you, your neurons had hardened into their final configuration, and it was too late. But, be happy anyway.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • opinionguru


      August 25, 2011 at 12:38 am |
  20. 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 10:44 pm |
    • lrid

      I have an advanced degree in Chemistry and I follow Christ. I know many scientists, doctors, IT professionals etc. who are also Christians. Just letting you know that your conclusion may be overstated.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Saboth

      @Irid : Did your parents force religion upon you at an early age? Indoctrination goes a long way into creating lifelong believers.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • Dean

      People with more education are more likely to read to their children. Information, ideas and beliefs that are learned before the age of 6 become ingrained. Even when people 'lose' religion in their teens and early 20s, they often return in their 40s, 50s and beyond as they stare the end-of-life in the face. It has little to do with education, and more to do with that they were indoctrinated in when very young.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • Mike

      I have a bachelors degree in biology and a doctorate in veterinary medicine. I believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate and died so that I would be forgiven for my sins.

      On the surface, it's easy to dismiss the Bible as a bunch of fantastical stories that are not based in scientific fact and crumble easily under scrutiny, but if you were to study more deeply, you would find that the Bible actually stands up. For instance, the old testament makes references to the fact that the earth is a globe. This was written long before we had any concept of the study of planets and space.

      Think about the fact that we thought the earth was flat until well into the 15th century. The opposite was written several thousand years before that. How could that be possible unless it was writing that was truly inspired by God? A lucky guess?

      The Bible also makes references to electromagnetic radiation more than 2000 years before scientists ever conducted experiments with light and radio.

      The old testament book of Leviticus gives standards of cleanliness that, had they been followed many centuries later during the Black Plague, would have kept hundreds of thousands of people from dying of plague. Before the discovery of micro-organisms, why would the writer of Leviticus have stressed the importance of washing the body with running water?

      The more you study the Bible, the more God will reveal to you that he truly is all-knowing. Are some of the ceremonies in the Bible outdated and silly to us now? Sure. But even these parts of the Bible had a very specific and logical purpose at the time.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • Gnodges

      Pretty weak sauce, Mike. Especially this line: "The more you study the Bible, the more God will reveal to you that he truly is all-knowing. " this is your problem, you already KNOW where more "study" of the bible will take you.......which is why you can take a few weak references in the bible and turn it into your truth about the creation of an infinite universe....sorry, but you may have degrees, but your not quite free, yet.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Real Deal

      Mike, "the old testament makes references to the fact that the earth is a globe."

      No, it mentions the "circle of the Earth". The Hebrews had words for ball and sphere... they did not use them.

      Wash in running water - certainly you know more about fleas than that. Leviticus also dictates dipping a live dove in the blood of a slaughtered one as a 'cure'.

      The electromagnetic radiation claim surpasses my expertise, but you can read a refutation here: http://home.nctv.com/jackjan/item65.htm

      August 24, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • Narnia

      Stereotypical much? Math degree with honors here (is that enough of a "discipline" for you?) and full-fledged Catholic Christian. The two coincide well together. 🙂

      August 25, 2011 at 12:04 am |
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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.