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. Jim

    The church doesn't want the poor, they don't have any $.

    August 25, 2011 at 5:09 am |
    • janice

      Nice try. Fail.

      August 25, 2011 at 6:03 am |
    • Evert van Vliet


      Nice fail, try again......(there's no church without dough)..it's why religious hobbies are tax-exempt to start with.

      August 25, 2011 at 6:29 am |
    • adam

      Very FAIL. Churches get 95% of their income from the "poor". Just like with casinos and the lottery, the "poor" think that throwing their money at something will result in a big pay off one day..

      August 25, 2011 at 6:54 am |
    • Eve

      atheists are known to be "poor" and miserable people that belong to second class minority.

      Are you saying that churches get most of their income form atheists?

      Epically FAIL!

      August 25, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  2. HappyMeal

    It's the other way around. Americans lost religion(Christianity) therefore lost the purpose of life and became uneducated.

    August 25, 2011 at 5:02 am |
  3. Nyaan

    ROFL... Pretty sure "level of education completed" and "% that are religious" are inversely proportional in any survey you'll find of American populations. Most likely people that don't attend church and didn't go to college are a part of that "spiritual but not religious" crowd that thinks whatever they want to believe is OK with their God.

    BTW If all atheists left the US, it would lose 93% of the National Academy of Sciences, but less than 1% of the prison population.

    August 25, 2011 at 4:57 am |
  4. Shasta

    Television did it.

    August 25, 2011 at 4:39 am |
  5. Robert

    I've only gone to church with college educated people my whole life. We need to bring back the poor/uneducated to church 🙁

    August 25, 2011 at 4:30 am |
  6. Emilio Dumphuque

    You geniuses should pay attention to what the study REALLY says! It's measuring the drop off of attendance, not attendance itself. The higher educated that still attend aren't leaving as fast as those with less education. That could easily be because most of them left decades earlier, so the drop off rate can't be as high due to a smaller population of holdouts.

    August 25, 2011 at 4:20 am |
    • Lola

      Yup probably because the people with degrees are holding on longer because they make more money and have the means to do so. Attendance is going down for all groups.

      August 25, 2011 at 7:36 am |
  7. Kelly

    Well, in college you pretty much listen to and regurgitate what the professor says and in church you listen to and regurgitate what the preacher says. So this isn't really a big surprise to me. While at one time a degree meant you could think for yourself it doesn't anymore and that's true with religion as well. There is no more debate about what a certain holy text means, there is only rigid fanaticism. You're not allowed to explore spirituality and find your own path, it is now mapped out for you and if you deviate in the slightest you're considered to be a lesser person.

    August 25, 2011 at 4:10 am |
    • churchin'

      I agree that there is no room in church for finding your own spiritual path. I don't think there ever has been. I do disagree, but only a little, about educated people thinking for themselves. For instance, I used the critical thinking skills developed at school to determine that church is a waste of a perfectly good Sunday and I'd rather not go. I do what I can.

      August 25, 2011 at 4:45 am |
  8. jimtanker/David Johson/JohnR/Tom Tom Piper's Son/Squirrels/Tullah/Peace2all and last but not the least REALITY et' al

    Our God-allergic brains had shrunk to the size of a quark that made our craniums a vestigial part of our spirit-abandoned bodies.

    And this article has just exposed it.

    August 25, 2011 at 3:59 am |
  9. Ineterested

    @Happy Meal- No need for ridicule (sort of ironic). Just saying what I have seen. Also regarding the destruction of the planet; it's not that no one believes it, it's that it's too troublesome / expensive / time consuming to do preventative measures (assuming we still have not passed the point of no return) so most people just ignore the warnings. Have nothing to do with people trusting what ecologist say.

    August 25, 2011 at 3:40 am |
  10. jimtanker

    Just scan the comments,posts and replies in this article and all other articles in belief blogs. No study needed.

    There even some that are seem uncivilised that made you wonder how they learn to use the computer.

    This study is just a confirmation of what I thought and had erased all my doubts.

    August 25, 2011 at 3:29 am |
  11. Ineterested

    Kind of surprising findings, even though they definitely used nit picked data. In my experience the believers are often pressured by the professors, especially in bio related fields, to switch their views through plain ridicule of their belief. I'm sure it is hard to write a theses when your adviser is so antagonistic against religion that he thinks you have no right of being a scientist at all because you believe in God. So it is not surprising that in certain fields, advanced degree holders, are unbelievers.

    Yet I know of many professionals, especially in health related fields, who are deeply religious (in appearance at least) and attend church services regularly.

    August 25, 2011 at 3:19 am |
    • Happy Meal

      Yes, those scientists completely bully theists. The academia is like an evil guild, a secret society. That's why they can't stop anyone from destroying the planet no matter how they warn. Deeds return on one's own head.

      August 25, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  12. Nostalgia

    Americans should attend church every week in order to be smarter and be more organized. It's good for one's emotion and brain as well. Non-christian Americans are shallow. All they think about is self and entertainment when the nation is suffering from the obesity pandemic. A real tragic picture. Americans were far more gorgeous and honorable decades ago.

    August 25, 2011 at 3:17 am |
  13. Joleen

    The church promotes values that have been flouted at the top of the pyramid. The people don't believe anymore... it just makes them be honorable when everyone they deal with above them are dishonorable. Never forget that upper income people frequently attend church as a chance to do business, not because they "believe" in anything but money.

    August 25, 2011 at 3:06 am |
    • Nostalgia

      Attending church is a good and civilized thing. Only barbaric Americans don't know it.

      August 25, 2011 at 3:11 am |
    • churchin'

      Nostalgia- You live in the 60's. Should we be worried about your mental health and wellbeing? Double dog dare you to say, verbatim, what you have posted on this site to everyone in your local post office tomorrow! Then give us an update if you can see through the shiner.

      August 25, 2011 at 4:51 am |
    • HappyMeal

      In the 60's, America was clean, peaceful and safer, though racism had to be overcome. America never lacks problems but she solved it for everyone... only until recent years.

      August 25, 2011 at 5:05 am |
    • churchin'

      @ Happy Meal- "Nostalgia

      The whites were so much better, smarter and better-looking when they did not mock Christianity by volume. Godly whites are the best."

      Yeah- There is that little issue of racism and the 60's. Seems like Nostalgia liked it. Idiots.

      August 25, 2011 at 6:01 am |
  14. ill501

    isn't it interesting that the study was of WHITE folks?

    August 25, 2011 at 3:06 am |
    • Joleen

      The explanation was that the difference between wealthy white and poor white was more extreme than for any other group. What do you make that mean?

      August 25, 2011 at 3:07 am |
    • Nostalgia

      The whites were so much better, smarter and better-looking when they did not mock Christianity by volume. Godly whites are the best.

      August 25, 2011 at 3:09 am |
    • Nostalgia? I think HappyMeal is a better new name for Naomi/Frederica

      Gosh you're an idiot

      August 25, 2011 at 3:11 am |
  15. Naomi

    Real quick guide to why my brain has shriveled to the size and shape of a raisin:

    I start by staying in my dark little windowless room for years upon years, with no human contact at all. I did not really choose the no human contact thing, it's just that Jesus makes people run away from me when I start talking.

    Then I get on my computer here in the asylum and I listen for God's voice to speak to me. Lately he has been the dog barking next door – I thank Jesus for speaking to me in dog-tongues like that. Before that he was a cockroach that skittered skittered skittered up and down my walls.

    Finally, I type out the brilliant insights that God gives me about Americans and Christian perfection and all the other stuff I get right.

    Oh, God want you to know that a fake Naomi, atheist anti-Christ in disguise, will come and say that I am a fake Naomi, but she is the fake. Her name isn't Naomi at all.

    August 25, 2011 at 2:54 am |
    • Naomi

      The above Naomi is a fake. I'll get new names.

      August 25, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • Naomi

      I told you so.

      August 25, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • jimtanker/David Johson/JohnR/Tom Tom Piper's Son/Squirrels/Tullah/Peace2all and last but not the least REALITY et' al

      Our brains had shrunk to the size of a quark that made our cranium vestigial.

      And this article exposed it.

      August 25, 2011 at 3:53 am |
  16. Naomi

    Who educated the world and brought literacy to the every corner of the entire world? Christian missionaries. In recent centuries, the British, other European and American/Canadian ones have been great; now all nationals follow their steps.

    August 25, 2011 at 2:53 am |
    • churchin'

      Ever thought pushing literacy and Christianity onto otherwise perfectly functional societies is an unethical thing to do? Cultures that were not taxing the Earth are now becoming just as much of a burden to it as the Christians. At what point will missionaries stop to think about their actions as pretentious instead of helpful?

      August 25, 2011 at 4:59 am |
  17. Naomi

    Real quick summary of secular Western education:
    Average Europeans and Americans no longer understand their own art, music, literature or architecture because they hate Christianity too much. The reason the West is producing and entertaining themselves with garbage each year and can no longer excel or prosper like their forefathers. Pollution of the planet and the youth continues meanwhile.

    August 25, 2011 at 2:45 am |
  18. Naomi

    Quick summary of the Western Civilization for the Westerners: Europeans and Americans always ended up doing very stupid things by scorning the Bible and scorning the Jews. And after being beaten up severely for that, 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 2:41 am |
  19. Muneef

    Recognize Palestine - New Path to Peace

    August 25, 2011 at 2:38 am |
  20. M in Australia

    Let me guess, the person conduction the "study" sits in a church pew every Sunday in the usual biased way.

    August 25, 2011 at 2:23 am |
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.