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. jesse

    Lies written by skewed scientists.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • jesse

      There are soooo many variables not taken into account. Articles like these ruin peoples' viewpoint on important topics.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  2. bob

    very surprising............seems to me it should be the opposite. At least, that is what I observe. But, perhaps I am confusing education with intelligence. I do see an inverse relation between intelligence and religious faith.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  3. Ed

    Maybe the less educated are smarter and don't fall for all that rubbish and can't be mind controlled. They probably have a stronger survival instint.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • Shamus McGee

      Going to church and practicing your religion is in no way the result of "mind control." I choose my religion based on what I believe, and I could change if I ever felt my current beliefs were incorrect.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  4. jahfellow

    the main reason people are leaving church is because of this creepy ass building we are told to come to with poor lighting and stiff seats it really has less to do with education.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • bob

      Indeed.....I want a lazy-boy and a beer........also, a big screen tv with college football rather than a sermon.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  5. Rose

    I stopped going to a christian church as soon as I moved out of my parents' house when I was 18 ... before I had a chance to get my degree. I would love to see a breakdown of these "less educated Americans" by age.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • truthfl1

      Never noticed until now, but this advanced education in relation to those that go to church and the others that don't seems to be true in everyone I know!!!

      August 24, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  6. dragon8me

    Religion in America is so phoney. Even if you believe in that nonsense, American churches are increasingly preaching prosperity and other things that oposes what Jesus taught. There a joke. Any "educated " person who believes in the invisible man are not as educated as you think.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Cre8tionism

      >> " There a joke. Any "educated " person who believes in the invisible man are not as educated as you think."

      I know which category you belong in. Your sentences should read as follows:

      "They are a joke. Any 'educated' person who believes in the invisible man *is* not as educated as you think."

      You need to get edumacated!

      August 24, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  7. Lacking Evidence since 14 billion BCE

    'bout time the other shoe drops. Thank god? A world without religion will be a much better place.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Jeff

      Right we need more scientists that develop nuclear weapons, fossil fuel burning technologies and an economic system that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer....and we need less people like Gandhi, MLK and Barack Obama.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
    • Realist

      Ah, a devout catholic Hitler? Or an inquisition? Or the fact that the church forced the belief that the sun revolved around the earth?

      August 24, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • What a brainiac Jeff is!

      The only economic system that actually intended to NOT make rich people richer and poor people poorer was Communism. So you are communist?

      August 24, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  8. Dave

    I've seen studies that say the exact opposite of what this article says. This looks like carefully mined and cherry picked data used to support a conclusion that agrees more favorably with the author's religious inclination. I think the reality is that the more educated a person is, the less need they have for religion. As well it should be.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Realist


      August 24, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • EJ in Metro Houston

      I would tend to agree with you. Normally people who are more educated tend to either question the very existence of a God and the stories they read in the Bible and want more facts to back up what they have been taught. They tend to doubt sometimes what they have been told about God and study science moreso than the religious aspect. Personally I have an advanced degree and very much belive in God, BUT I have a lot of less faith in organized religion. I wonder who was in this study.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • CJG

      I third this sentiment.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • truthfl1

      that's just a ridiculous statement- the more educated, the less they need religion? Just not true in everyone I know, especially the ones with postgraduate education.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Marcie

      Amen to that (so to speak). Thanks.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  9. Irene

    Educated people are forced to keep up appearances to hold on to their local hillbilly *high societies*, better white-collar jobs and all kinds of offices, especially in the South, while uneducated don't really give a damn about public opinion... Try to admit that you are not a church goer and build a serious career inside the bible belt... 2 hours of Sunday boredom is a small price to pay. Educated people are in fact smart 🙂

    August 24, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  10. Godfrey

    It takes an agile mind to justify a belief in talking donkeys.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  11. Realist

    The greater intelligence, the less likely to believe. Looks like the less educated are joining the most intelligent. Finally, the USA is evolving after so many years of stagnation due to voodoo beliefs. Maybe fewer kids have been brainwashed.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  12. willie

    Another slanted article by CNN. They word it so at first glance it seems the more educated you are the more likely you are a believer but facts are facts, most educated people don't believe in religion, 54% according to this poll prefer reality to religious fantasy. But if you ask around you'll find the figure is much higher. It also depends where you live. The highly religious south skews the figures...

    August 24, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  13. Rev. Henry Bates

    Most likely the less educated go without the social agenda as the more educated. Way too many people attend churches for reasons other than a genuine seeking for God; i.e. networking, social status, entertainment, music. The radical Jesus called us to "evolve" religion, but for the most part Sunday service ministers continue to preach the same old time religion as their predecessors. Those ministers who are willing to separate truth from fairy talles are rare. Most pretty much tell the people what they want to hear.

    August 24, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  14. GB

    Isn't it interesting that all of this guy's research completely supports his personal beliefs? What a joke. Next article please.

    August 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Shamus McGee

      I see your point, but don't start bashing someone without doing some research first. I may have respected your comment if you took the time to look up study results that prove this article wrong.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  15. jma58

    This study fails to consider the fact that most people who get up and go to church each Sunday do it out of routine or various other reasons that have no connection to "god".

    August 24, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Realist

      OCD is a psychosis whose origins are many times caused by brainwashing children into voodoo religious beliefs.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  16. Randy

    Could be that the educated people are using church as a great place to NETWORK?

    August 24, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • ibrad

      or unlike the rich,maybe these people have to work their second or third job?

      August 24, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  17. Monkey Mind

    Church is for the weak minded seeking an answer for their existence. It is the bane of society and does nothing but fills false hope and polarizes humanity. Live life, enjoy it, it's short and very precious. Do not waste time basking in someone else ideals, create your own and treat your fellow man well. We all know how to do this, but some need church teach this. The version is always perverted.

    August 24, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Jake Owens


      August 24, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • Rod

      Very well said. Short, intelligent and to the point.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  18. Michael

    This proves that Atheist only THINK they are smarter than everyone else.

    August 24, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Realist

      You should research a bit. Your statement lacks truth.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Cason Snow

      Good thing this has only to do with not going to church, rather than atheism in general.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  19. Randy

    DUH!!! The uneducated whites are getting ready to go to work at the restaurant to cook your Sunday meal, or the mall so you fancy people can do your Sunday afternoon shopping. The members of a church I attended 30 years ago ran off the pastor because he told the members not to go out to eat on Sunday afternoon and not to go shopping on Sundays because they were causing somebody to have to work that might otherwise be in church.

    August 24, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Who might otherwise be in church, dropping money in the basket?

      August 24, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  20. rob

    I find this study hard to believe. Seems to me the more educated you are, they less likely you are to believe in a myth like religion.

    August 24, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • Nelson

      how right you are

      August 24, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Nick

      Actually, there are studies that conflict with this, stating that more educated people tend to be less religious.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • ibrad

      I always thought it was for the wealthy to justify themselves. Crap all over normal people Mon-Sat the go to church Sun and show what a great person you are to yourself!

      August 24, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Walt

      I find this study questionable at best. There is a definite link between higher education in the sciences and less inclination to believe myths. There may be more "BS" degrees being handed out these days as compared to B.S. degrees? That could explain this paradox of reason.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:03 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.