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. Chuck

    I'm and educated agnostic and proud of it. The bible is an allegorical story written by men. The new testament was written in the 4th century A.D. by emperor Constantine and incorporates astrological allegorical symbolism. They incorporated ancient Egyptian beliefs as well into the Jesus story. Jesus is just the most recent of the Egyptian sun gods. The Jesus story itself is an anceint story that has been told for thousands of years in the nothern hemisphere. it's completely based upon the suns movements against the 12 constellations of the zodiac with Jesus representing the sun. Even the ressurection is based upon the sun's movements during the winter solstice with the sun moving 1° north on Dec. 25th. Hence, the reason why Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25th.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • SiriusVH

      You are describing the 'trick' Constantine used to 'inject' Christianity into mainstream paganism, I assume ....

      August 25, 2011 at 1:56 am |
  2. Frank

    koga- you are so caught up in yourself. You are one of those spoken of in Revelation: "Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • Oy

      Another Lamzilla! - OY!

      August 25, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • Gibberish for Gibberish



      August 25, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  3. g

    Don't you mean the less brain washed!! You don't have to go to church to believe in God or a God!!! You don't have to be seen to believe in anything!!! Besides most people go to church to be seen so they can feel like they are not as horrible as they are!! Most the people that go to church go cause they have to!! Maybe more educated people know better, or don't need that crutch!!

    August 25, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  4. George Washington Carver

    Say NO to pasteurized Jesus blood and say YES to the wholesome and marvelous peanut, my caucasoid brethrens!

    August 25, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  5. Lourie

    The most telling fact in this survey is that, in America, attending church "at least monthly" is considered regular attendance. LMAO! The truth is churches don't care whether you attend or not.. so long as you walk in and drop off your 10%.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:13 am |
  6. Rabbi Green

    its tough to compete with ESPN & Faux....

    August 25, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • Jim

      Now I'm confused. A study 8 months ago stated that the less educated are more likely to be religious.

      The highly educated do not believe in evolution. Now I'm even more confused..

      August 25, 2011 at 12:13 am |
  7. Lourie

    Have these people considered that most jobs requiring employees to work on Sunday are for less educated people... along with the doing away with blue laws? When the survey was taken in the 70s many less educated people worked in manufacturing which was closed on Sunday. You also had people who worked in food service, retail, etc which was also closed on Sunday in the 70s. Now manufacturing jobs have shipped over seas and most businesses are open on Sundays.. making it more likely that less educated people will have to work. Prisons, nursing homes, drug and alcohol treatment centers, mental health facilities, and juvenile detention centers are also much larger and more numerous requiring more round-the-clock less educated workers. If you are a waitress, cook, bar tender, nurses aide, orderly, custodian, prison guard, cop, if you work in retail, etc you are far less likely to have a schedule with weekends off.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • bman

      Well said...As corporate american keeps chugging along and we americans find ourselves living on dirt floors and sleeping with chickens, I am sure it will be hard to attend church for those who believe.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • Lourie

      Well bman that's not exactly what I was getting at... Just that our society has changed so much that church is just not practical for many people. Add to that the fact that many more people can read and understand the bible themselves and so they no longer need a pastor to read it to them. In the 70s poorer, less educated people were FAR more likely to be illiterate than they are now. Now even the poor can read so they can figure out that the bible is yak-squeeze all on their own.

      August 25, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  8. ryan evans

    I would bet anything that this study was conducted by a religious group and has heavy bias. shame on you cnn!

    August 25, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • Jim

      Absolutely agree with you!

      Now I'm confused. A study 8 months ago stated that the less educated are more likely to be religious.

      The highly educated do not believe in evolution. Now I'm even more confused..

      August 25, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • Tom

      Yes, a very religious group led by "W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, who was lead researcher on the project."...as the article states.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  9. The Lambly Winged Lion of The Gods Does Roar

    Many elderly folks among others might view marriage as a spiritually-birthed renaissance proportioned with understanding the “love-nature” of matrimonial consciousness regulated with the honors endowed them when one does commit 2 people within such moralizing and scrupled bondages of matrimony. Maybe I am an old fuddy-duddy, at least I put my tin-foiled pointy hat on and rise to the occasional moment(s)! 🙂

    August 24, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • csx

      Go to bed.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • ?

      Do you compose your posts by taking those word magnets, flinging them at the refridgerator, then typing whatever results? Your writing is pretty demented. Perhaps you are intending to be peotic, not realizing that you are a talentless fop?

      August 25, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • The Lambly Winged Lion of The Gods Does Roar

      Yes my Luv, I'll "go to bed" as soon as I'm finished making a late night snack. Roasted chess.nuts on an open fire of tantalizing breadths of puuuuufect symmetries beckons my calling! 🙂

      As for "?", Your ti.til.ating venues of scripts leaves one to ponder serendipitously among the skunk.weeds of lagersville to make a hasty retreat of forlornment before this exercise does beguile even me! 🙂

      August 25, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • Wordy Wordpicker

      Dude – I think you "beguiled" yourself months ago, but at least you're entertaining.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  10. God Bless the Illuminati

    So, how is believing in a god any different than believing in the Easter Bunny? Seriously, there is EXACTLY the same amount of evidence "proving" the existence of both. Please explain this to me.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • csx

      Faith. BTW my friend, we are on the edge of eternity, one heart beat away from death.
      so be on the safe side and serve the creator.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • God Bless the Illuminati

      csx – Seriously? So, belief is a just-in-case thing to you? Is that what you're saying? If so, don't you think that god guy is going to be able to see the difference between a "true" believer and a just-in-case believer? What you're suggesting is Pascal's Wager – a foolhardy approach, to be sure.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • Truth Teller

      There is scientific evidence that backs some parts of the bible. Also the Easter Bunny is originally from a pagan religion that has no evidence. If you really want it to be explained while your sitting at your PC Google Scientific Facts from the Bible. If not stop making yo self look like an ass.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • barberie

      csx – a fearful reliance on Pascal's wager is no foundation for faith. I will also pray that you one day find a relationship with Christ in your heart that is rooted in love and unity rather than fear and political division. God bless.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • God Bless the Illuminati

      Truth Teller – I like you. I Googled as you suggested. You got me. I fell for it. Good one!
      So, of course the easter bunny is pagan – just like Santa, Xmas trees, etc. Let me ask again, how is belief in some god different than believing in the bunny or santa or the tooth fairy or wishing on rainbows or snapping the wish bone or four leaf clovers or.... Get the picture?

      August 25, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • HotAirAce

      A few scientific facts in The Babble does not support the existence of god, especially given that they got a simple fact, the value of pi, wrong. And "faith" is not a fact or supporting evidence. Believers have no factual objective reason to believe in the existence of god – any god!

      August 25, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • bman

      Except, when you grow up, you learn the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Santa Clause et al are not real...

      August 25, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • ATC

      whats wrong with pascals wager? Its a better wager than not expressing any belief or denying the existence of god like your post seems to suggest, the wager also suggests that pretending to believe in god or just playing it safe might eventually subvert you the person into a real faith. God works though love and compassion.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • bman

      Sorry to offend, but the words scientific fact and bible in the same sentence doesn't seem to mesh...Sounds funny. Sorry. Now, if you were to say the ideas behind the fairy tails or stories would sound much better.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:27 am |
  11. Sean

    It says right in the story they don't look at other races cause they are more uniform. These guys are trying to pick data out of an anomaly. reliability of study = fail

    August 24, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  12. Ezlaguy

    The answer is simple, in fact elementary. Because these (millons) of people have lost their jobs, their houses etc! And if they still have a car they cannot AFFORD to pay for the gasoline! They are to poor to be able to go to church. And probably also to embarssed, because the have no nice clothes to wear to church. It is a shame that it is like that nowadays...

    May God help them-

    August 24, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  13. csx

    The Belief blog, run by the lost (blind) is more a Satanist blog.

    And Yes, I agree, stupid people are not in church, they are called democrats.

    BTW, how about an article that says smart educated Muslims do usually blow themselves up?????

    August 24, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • barberie

      csx – I'd like you to read your post and ask yourself whether you feel you are truly walking in the path of Christ. I see a great deal of what you call Satanism in your divisive values and judgmental expression. I will pray for you, but it is important for you to seek salvation from your wicked ways within your own heart.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • God Bless the Illuminati

      CSX – are you sure you're not an atheist? Because you are doing a pi*ss poor job of living Christ's teachings. Like most Christians, you're quite hypocritical.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  14. koga

    i'm glad to see that attendance in general is dropping. organized religion is in its death throes and good riddance to the hate, harm and hindrance it has caused over the millenia.

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

      I'm glad the article was spot on...thanks for the conformation...

      August 25, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • CCB

      Hate and harm? It is easy to point out how extremists from any faith can create a mass perception that religion is somehow the root of these 2 things. This is a misconception. Consider all of the good deeds that people do around the world due to moral lessons taught through organized religions. Too often, atheists or agnostics are hostile to anyone who has a belief in something. The bottom line for me is that faith, regardless of which religion, is a strong indicator that a person has a moral foundation that positively affects our society.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • notsosure

      CCB, it may be worth noting that putting up a building, and holding a "service" does not somehow exonerate churches from their pervasive opinions. Back in the 80's not going to church was a sign to the older crowd that someone might not be a very good person. That stigma still lasts today in MANY holier-than-thou types who associate with the church. There was a time when going to church helped employers weed out potential new hires. Bottom line is the church has always had more sway and power than it has needed, be it christian, catholic, jew, ect.

      Every time I see a preacher driving a Cadillac, I am reminded how well god pays. That, is most likely the most reprehensible facet of how destructive religion is. The exploitation of those who simply need something to believe in.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  15. Marilyn

    To All of you bragging Athiests, with or without multiple letters behind your name, are you aware that even Einstein believed in a Higher Power? To all the "Christians", are you aware that Constantine changed the Christian/Catholic Sabbath to SUNday to bring more cohesion between yourselves & the pagans? (They worshipped the sun & you worship 'the son'. Bit ironic, wouldn't you say?) "RELIGION", in general, is Corrupt. Once Religion disappears & One becomes Spiritual, THEN True Love, Peace, & Unity will exist. At that time, ONE God will be worshipped & all suffering and pain will cease to exist. As far as this "study" it's malarkey & the majority which do regularly attend do it for networking & show. "Religion" is the root of all Evil & at this time the earth belongs to the dEVIL; as witnessed by America's fall & how the world is going further to hell. Most have either forgotten God, never knew him or some attachment (money, career, person, etc) has become their god. Also, our churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, etc., have become the blind leading the blind. I, personally, wrote off church & "Religion" when I picked up my dad & Tim Timmons (used to have following of over 20k blinded Christians in So. Ca) @ LAX. The men were recapping potential several mil. $$ meeting & Timmons stated, "I would have shown such & such more respect when we first met had I known he was the owner. I had no idea from how he was dressed." What a disgusting, hypocritical PIG which is full of evil! The few services I've attended since, nastiness spewing from preachers mouths concerning other churches, RELIGIONS, peoples, etc. Thank you, but No Thanks. I will continue staying away from "religion" & keep my own personal relationship with our creator. Most of the world is blind & deaf. All these natural disasters, wars, famines, etc., is PUNISHMENT! WWIII, nuclear & biological disasters are coming next. Mark My Words!

    August 24, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Monroe

      Oh, we're sorry. You have all the answers, and everyone else is wrong. Thanks for bipping in and enlightening us.

      Of course, the definition of religion is "the service and worship of God or the supernatural", so when you say "I will continue staying away from "religion" & keep my own personal relationship with our creator", you do realize you are totally contradiciting yourself. Right?

      August 24, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • *frank*

      thanks for sharing!

      August 24, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Al

      Although Einstein was not an atheist, he did not believe in a "personal" god. He said "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings."

      August 25, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • HeroicSlug

      Lol Marilyn. You've made me get the image of the Doctor (from ST: Voyager) admonishing the townsfolk in the holodeck stuck in my head. Thanks for that, now I need to search my HDD for that episode to make it go away. "Sinners! Sinners..." But seriously, you think your thousand year old proto-Harry Potter is gonna rain down destruction on us all, eh? Good luck with that. I hope you get less gullible over time.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • God Bless the Illuminati

      I like you, Marilyn. The first time I read your post I thought you were serious. Then I read it again. Good one. You made me chuckle. Thanks.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  16. atheist

    "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours"

    Stephen Roberts

    August 24, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • Randoms

      Can't dispute that.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:16 am |
  17. MrHanson

    Creationists can’t really expect a fair hearing in the public square any more. Any who hint that even ID should be given a hearing, even if they make plain their allegiance to the orthodox Darwinist dogma, are berated, ostracized, and
    even dismissed from their employ. Dr Gavriel Avital is merely the latest of a long series of high-profile scientists who have voiced skepticism at these sacred cows of modern academia and has paid the ultimate professional price—termination.

    So there you have it. If you don't believe in a purposeless materialistic world view, then obviously you're stupid.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • koga

      That's because evoluion is true, ID and creationism is not. No amount of belief will make an untrue thing a fact.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Slight Difference

      Evolution is a theory in the way that aerodynamics and gravity are theories. There is an enormous mountain of evidence supporting it. Intelligent Design/Creationism is a theory in the way that leprechauns and vampires are theories. There is not even the slightest shred of evidence supporting them.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • God Bless the Illuminati

      MrHanson – those were some of the most ghastly leaps of logic I've encountered out here in quite awhile. That was both entertaining and amazing. Thank you.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:45 am |
  18. Brandon

    Whoever thinks that not going to church means that one is "losing religion" isn't very intelligent. It could mean a lot of things. For example, they are lazy, depressed, or have to work on Sunday. All of those attributes are consistent with someone who hasn't finished college.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • MrHanson

      Wow, way to undermine your comment.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  19. bman

    Way back in the day, man blamed the rain god for the flooding of the crops. Then some poor sap got thrown into a flaming pit of hot lava. Years later, irrigation and damming were discovered and there was no need for the rain god anymore. As man becomes slightly more intelligent, the god gene becomes less of a necessity...I am a “free thinker” with minimal religious experience, thank god...LOL. I find the mechanics and mass delusion fascinating. With all that said, church and organized religion seems like it can be expensive, which could partly play a roll here. Also, one other possibility may have to do with the fact that a super religious person, who is down on their luck, maybe blaming god....or maybe as technology and information increases, its really okay to not draw an opinion at all. When was the last time someone was convicted in court for a crime because the judge or jury had faith...Anyway, someone once said that if a person were to hold a hair dryer between their hands and talk into it, they would be considered crazy! Remove the hair dryer and they would be praying!

    August 24, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • g


      August 25, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  20. Mark from Middle River

    Saboth – It is agian Atheist grasping at straws. Now it is because they are "pillars of the community"???

    That would lean towards the elitist mindset that the most admired and leaders are those that are the most educated. I would hope that even the most fundalmentalist Atheist would be against that line of thought.

    Think about it, educated could be a teacher to a lawyer and all points in the middle. Think of it this way, both Obama and GW Bush are both ivory league educated and the fact is that both of them are hated by over half the population. What is more important? If the guy sitting next to me in church is a janitor who has just a high school education or if he is a doctor I guess for some it does matter.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
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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.