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. Imagine

    Religion is for all. True believers are few. God does not need prove or to be proven. God's works are all good and miraculous. Human being with limited intelligent not capable to prove or define anything about God and His works. Science is no match for God's creations. Science is only re-invent God's creations. If we fail to prove something, this does not imply that thing is non existence. Have you heard of "Dark Matter" that scientist start to acknowledge it existence even thought it cannot be seen by human eyes? God created the world and human created TOYOTA only ... period. Only fools, those who do not dare to imagine and dream, broken do not believe in God.

    August 25, 2011 at 2:18 am |
    • Imagine there's no Heaven, It's easy if you try, No hell below us, Above us

      If humans created Toyota only, then who invented KIA? Industrius squirrels?

      August 25, 2011 at 2:27 am |
    • Bippy, the Lesser Squirrel-God of Spam Can Keys

      No self-respecting squirrel would ever have anything to do with cars and their squirrel-squishing tires! They are the evil creation of the Dread Dark One, Henry Ford, Bringer Of Doom!

      August 25, 2011 at 2:36 am |
  2. Les

    This study is flawed. The Word "Religious" is clearly associated with the word "church". There are 10s of thousands of people who practice paganism and the number is rising rapidly. These families and their children attend regular and holiday circles with regularity. When you redo this study include all religions not just those that continue to support an outdated and socially worthless dying religion like Xtianity. Get a clue.

    August 25, 2011 at 1:53 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Yep, dying ... had Athiest a few months ago upset at all the mega churches.

      Question, isn't paganism ... a Polytheist Faith?

      Hmm... Oh yeah, the Mormon church is growing by leaps and bounds ...you want to claim them and the Muslims as well? 😀

      August 25, 2011 at 2:53 am |
    • Les

      I was pointing out that the Judeo-Xtian traditions (which include Islam and Mormonism) are not the only religions in the world. It is a fact that the earth-centered pagan faiths which are practiced by an increasingly larger population (especially in traditionally Xtian strongholds) are in fact growing at a brisk pace.

      And yes I am polytheistic and animistic. The myth of one god needs to be put to rest forever.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  3. John Richardson

    Belief in the literal truth of the bible, etc, is clearly anticorrelated with lever of education. The more educated, if they go to church at all, tend to hang out in non-literalist churches. For the less educated to be dropping out of churches means a further diminution of the literalist faiths, and that is a good thing. I'd like to see Christianity become as marginal in the US as it already is in much of Europe and am confident that that is coming. But bad habits die slowly and the American church habit is just one example.

    August 25, 2011 at 1:41 am |
  4. Naomi

    Average Europeans and Americans no longer understand their own art, music, literature or architecture because they hate Christianity too much. The reason the West are producing and entertaining themselves with garbage each year and can no longer excel or prosper like their forefathers.

    August 25, 2011 at 1:34 am |
    • *frank*

      Go wash your rancid cunt, you moribund wombat.

      August 25, 2011 at 1:52 am |
    • Hey Buddy!

      Frank, please don't insult wombats by comparing them to Naomi

      August 25, 2011 at 2:15 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Frank, if she has gotten you to the point of using such vulgarity then you have really lost to Naomi.

      August 25, 2011 at 2:49 am |
    • Joleen

      Frank, you are worse than Naomi. eeeuuuuwwwww

      August 25, 2011 at 5:17 am |
  5. John Richardson

    Any drop off in church attendance is to be welcome. People need real help, not fairy tales.

    August 25, 2011 at 1:32 am |
  6. Naomi

    Irreligious Westerners have no knowledge on history. On their own history of the Western Civilization! The damage from the hatred against Christianity their own long-time conscience. This is the greatest era to topple the uneducated West! Anyone can do it.

    August 25, 2011 at 1:30 am |
    • SiriusVH

      a totally gratuitous assertion .... You don't need to be a devout Christian to appreciate Western history and civilization. Please remember that Western civilization did not start with the birth of Christ .... Knowing Christian theology only gives you a better appreciation of the arts that have used Christianity as a source of inspiration. Even then, you can appreciate a Pieta statue while being an agnostic or even an atheist ....

      August 25, 2011 at 1:46 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Then it is cool for me, as a Christian, to appreciate AC/DC, Ozzy and KISS?

      August 25, 2011 at 2:56 am |

    It seems to me that some of you might actually read the Bible(Try the NASB translation. Easy reading.) It says somewhere in there that 'GOD's word does not come back void.'

    In other words, if you read it, it WILL have an impact you. How much so depends upon the reader...

    August 25, 2011 at 1:27 am |
    • Sparky is No one?

      I read it and it bored the shit oout of me.

      August 25, 2011 at 1:38 am |
    • Joleen

      I have read the Bible through several times. It did change me, I left church. Every church I ever attended twists and lies about what is in the Bible.

      August 25, 2011 at 5:18 am |
  8. Naomi

    Europeans and Americans always ended up doing very stupid things by scorning the Bible and scorning the Jews. And after being beaten up severely because of it, they come back to admit that God is right. It's re-pe-ti-tious in the Western history, though they were better than illiterate barbarians. The 21st century is seeing the worst follies of the secular West yet.

    August 25, 2011 at 1:24 am |
    • Jake

      Finally, someone with sense... Naomi is right, also I am having trouble seeing agnostics fully appreciating western art, architecture, and other forms inspired by our collective faith in God. For them it is merely something to look at and stuyd, for others it is a way to be inspired in the faith that also blessed its artists.

      August 25, 2011 at 2:13 am |
    • Harry Hippobottomus

      Jake, agreeing with Naomi/Justina/HappyMeal automatically puts you in the "total idiot" category with almost everyone here. Even most Christians on this blog think she is crazy.

      August 25, 2011 at 2:21 am |
  9. Naomi

    "Education for all" started from the need of bringing everyone – yes, every peasant – the Bible knowledge in Christendom alone. All other civilization never had such concept. Fights for access to the Bible brought every advancement, development and liberation to the Planet Earth.

    August 25, 2011 at 1:18 am |
    • Not so

      Actually, for about fifteen centuries, the Church did their services in Latin so that the peasants would not know what was being said, and thus seemed to need the Church to guide them. They intentionally kept people in the dark about what they were actually saying.

      August 25, 2011 at 1:21 am |
    • Naomi

      @Not so-, that's why Reformers fought! Hello? Are you a little kid?

      August 25, 2011 at 1:26 am |
    • Not so

      That's not anywhere on Martin Luther's 95 theses, you moron.

      August 25, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  10. mcnasty

    Religion gives hope to those who's world is being torn apart by religion.

    August 25, 2011 at 1:18 am |
  11. *frank*

    50% of men go to church only to stare at the rear ends of girls that are much too young for them, whilst 50% of women go hoping to see that the other women have gotten even fatter and uglier than they have since last Sunday.
    True story, confirmed by science.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  12. Brian

    I have seen "studies" which say just the opposite. By the way, Einstein never practiced religion a day in his life. Was Einstein less educated? Religion in this country is a mile wide and an inch deep. American religion is dominated by three things: Money, Money and Money.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:47 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      It is? Hmm...not like science with their multi-million dollar studies to confirm often already known subjects. Maybe if all the scientist studying duck farts would all work for a cure for Cancer, Diabetes, Blindness and maybe to help build bionic legs and arms, we would not feel so upset giving them so much tax payer funding.

      August 25, 2011 at 1:30 am |
    • Even Christians will choose science

      Well Mr. Hypocrite, when you get cancer, you will be begging for the experimental duck fart treatment! That's where people really show their inner beliefs. Let's ask them:

      Hey all you cancer patients! You can only choose one of the following. You can try radiation, surgery and chemo, or you can just pray. Do you believe in God, or do you actually believe in science?

      Almost nobody would choose prayer.

      August 25, 2011 at 1:36 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Only one choice huh? That I work at a medical center that has access to all four. Can you trust me to say that there are ,many that do also pray with the others? Especially when they have to choose chemo vs radiation.

      Let us be serious, how many times have we watched or listened to the network news and they have folks announcing findings that do not really do not have intentions for medically helping anyone.

      Let us try something recent. Ti'tle: “Bise'xual Men.. Science says they're real”

      A new study in the journal Biological Psychology claims to have at least shown that some men who say they're bise'xual actually get aroused by both men and women.


      Ok, all joking aside. Some therapist, phycologist and scientist just spent funding to tell us that there are “bise'xual” males?

      How many folks did not know that being “Bise'xual” ment that you get excited by both women and men? Dude... this is what I mean. Money that could be channeled into maybe Autism or AIDS research and some department wanted to spend their funding to confirm the “Bi” in Bise'xual?

      If they could find a cure for cancer and say that the cure for Cancer was possibly in Duck Farts … but to explain that duck farts were contributing to something like global warming.... maybe you can tell the Cancer patients that money that could go to finding a cure for Cancer was being diverted.

      Nice try though..

      August 25, 2011 at 2:46 am |
    • Les

      @Mark from Middle River
      BTW, most of the things you mention are already here. They are inaccessible to those that are not filthy rich. There is absolutely no excuse for charging thousands to 10s of thousands of dollars for these cures and helps. "Paying for research" is a lie since most, if not all of these products are researched and sent into production through government and private grants. $3,000-$8,00o per dose or 10s of thousands for a prophylactic device is criminal especially when those treatments cost only a few dollars to produce and market.

      If there is even the remotest possibility that the study of duck farts would increase our knowledge and understanding of whatever, it deserves funding. i, for one, would support the study on grounds that lack of knowledge about duck farts could be detrimental in ways we can't began to imagine.

      August 25, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  13. opinionguru

    Lots of meaningless discourse here, it is CNN after all; in the end ...Man proposes, GOD disposes.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:42 am |
    • notsosure

      Kind of a cheap there, isn't it ace? Without actually contributing anything you dismissed everything everyone else has said, and threw in a self gratifying limerick to prove how much smarter than the rest of us you are. How, pray tell, are you accrediting the disposal process to "god", and not "science"?

      August 25, 2011 at 12:52 am |
    • Opinions are like . . .

      How about some solid evidence that God has ever disposed of anyone or anything supernaturally?

      August 25, 2011 at 12:57 am |
    • H. E. Vincent

      Well "notsosure", that is all the extant commentary deserved.

      August 25, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  14. notsosure

    Think about it. ,You get up on Sunday, you drive to church, you drop some money in the plate. You go to Sunday lunch, then drive home. Later that night you get back out and go to church, drop money in the plate, then come home (or go out to dinner). The point I am making here is simply that it seems more like a scam to suck money out of people in ANY way possible. It almost seems only the well-to-do CAN go to church, or have time to go to church.

    FWIW, I would love to know where the scientific poll done to get these stats is at. A christian dating site? The whole article seems baseless.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:38 am |
  15. Educate Yourselves

    No big surprise here, people who are indoctrinated in our education system like to be indoctrinated in Church. Educate yourselves. We have so many resources these days to educate yourself if you really want to learn, it's incredible. From multiple sources as well, not just a few professors.

    Not everyone in school really wants to learn, many really just want a piece of paper they believe will get them a paycheck. A paycheck so they can pay back thousands in debt they went into while getting that piece of paper.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • H. E. Vincent

      You are equating information, which has dubious value at best, with education. A self defeating fallacy if ever there was one.

      August 25, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  16. TG

    Through the Bible book of Revelation, it was prophetically stated that religion around the earth would be "drying up", losing it's hold on the masses. At Revelation 16:12, it says that when the sixth angel "poured out his bowl upon the great river Eu·phra′tes," that "its water was dried up."

    The river Euphrates was ancient Babylon's life support and protection. When the water level was dropped sufficiently by king Cyrus of Persia on the night of October 5/6, 539 B.C.E., the city fell to his army. Hence, the world-wide false religious empire of Babylon the Great, with it's symbolic river Euphrates of "peoples and crowds and nations and tongues"(Rev 17:15), are drying up, with many leaving organized religion for various reasons, such as the falsehoods its promotes or the feeling of hollowness within it's walls, "paying out money for what is not (spiritual) bread."(Isa 55:2)

    August 25, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  17. brad

    The poor have less to gain socially and businesswise from church attendence. Ex. the only reason insurance salesmen go to church is for contacts.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • Joleen

      LOL, recently applied for a job with an insurance sales firm, and the first question out of the block was... do you attend church? Second was what outside activities are you actively involved in? I worked in real estate at one time and it was the same mantra. Church is a place to do "bidnis"

      August 25, 2011 at 5:23 am |
  18. Elizabeth

    DItto here; two bachelor degrees and haven't gone to church since early 20's; pretty much since I studied English my mind was opened.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  19. PaulieJ

    Correlation does not equal causation.
    Happy colleged educated white American here that is free from the brainwashing of the dogma of organized religions.
    Free your minds folks. You can be spiritual and in connection with your deity of choice without setting foot in a so called holy building or listen to just another man, like yourself, except that he professes to be more in contact/touch with your deity than you and therefor feels it's his duty to tell you how you should live your life.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  20. Bernie Lomax

    There is direct correlation between socioeconomic status (i.e. income, EDUCATION, occupation) and religion. When regions have more wealth, they have better access to education. These same regions also happen to be the least religious... there has been extensive demographic research studies. This article is total BS. Remind me not to send my kids to University of Virginia.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:28 am |
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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.