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. Tex71

    Working class 1850 – getting screwed, accepts it.
    Working class 1900 – getting screwed, resents it.
    Working class 1950 – getting screwed, blames it on Hitler and Emperor Hirohito.
    Working class 2000 – sick of getting screwed, gives up trying to play Wall Street's game, loses religion, stops caring about raising kids with "values".
    Working class 2050 – 80% unemployed, USA has the highest poverty rate in the Western Hemisphere; riots start in the slums, screaming mobs burn down Beverly Hills and the Hamptons, looting and pillaging. UN peacekeeping forces deploy and former allies form a coalition to build a functioning democracy in the USA.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • studdmuffins

      You've obviously never been to Haiti. Your charge of "USA has the highest poverty rate in the Western Hemisphere" is ludicrous.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • AmericanSam

      Sounds good to me.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • cosmicsnoop

      studdmuffins: you obviously have a problem with reading comprehension. He is making an apocalyptic prediction. It is you who are ludicrous.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  2. John

    Water seeks its own level. If they're not learning anything from religion, why stay. Being less educated doesn't mean an absence of common sense.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  3. Bo

    ===========@SHRIKE================== It's only a day dream to think this world would would be better off without religion. Can you give any example of what you are saying? The ancient Polynisians had a god and they lived in peace until evil white man came along and made war with them. (If you think Captiann Cook was a Christian, we have a difference of opnion.)

    August 24, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • DrDeathRay

      You are confusing spirituality with religion. As religion was created by man, it has predictably failed on all levels. One only has to look at the Catholic Church to see just how monstrously religion has failed. Fortunately, spirituality does not require a religious affiliation. It only requires your desire and faith. After all, Jesus of Nazareth did not attend any “church”, although he certainly entered into the temple. And while he established a likeminded group of individuals as a socialistic community, Jesus has almost no relation to what religion has become. If you truly seek Jesus, seek spirituality not religion.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
  4. Angela

    I think people are just realizing that organized religion is for the government, not the people

    August 24, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  5. Jeff

    This is because the educated population left the church a long time ago. Uneducated people are just catching up.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Angela

      lol Jeff that's it!

      August 24, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Paige

      Exactly what I was going to say! :0) I am very educated, and I left that lunacy long ago!

      August 24, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  6. Angela

    It's more likely the "Educated" Americans go to church for political reasons...business contacts...etc.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Ceri

      Dang, why didn't I think of that? There was me going along simply because I wanted to...

      Seriously, it is hilarious what some of you atheists think about Christians. You are so far removed from reality it is laughable.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  7. MysteryMoves

    Perhaps the uneducated is educated enough to understand that supporting Christianity means screwing themselves. True statement, the GOP (that is, religious right) proclaim owners of heaven and earth require the uneducated to do as they are told which means voting GOP, that is, vote for taxing the poor so the wealthy can live....!

    August 24, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Ceri

      And the religious left, the religious centerists, what about them?

      August 24, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  8. B17

    Surprising result. As another blogger put it people with half a brain stay away from churches & their intolerant beliefs. The question is then are less educated people smarter? If you are less educated, less churched, less married, with less kids, you have a lot more time on your hands. You watch TV a lot. You see religious fanatics posing as political candidates, ministers, priests, do-gooders, etc. It gradually turns your stomach. It drives you out of the house, you get a job, and you never darken a church door again!

    August 24, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  9. Joe

    If you are christian, you are either a fool or a sham such as Pastor Long Dong.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • Ceri

      Thanks Joe. But you don't even know me.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  10. Pat

    Educated or not, at least someone gets it.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  11. Joe

    The more educated people left the church long time ago.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • Bertoldt Brecht

      Yep – the "educated" people attending church in this study are the moderately-educated bourgeois middle class conformists, not the intelligentsia.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  12. Paul K

    Ever think this could be a sign of economic times and people are starting to give up all hope?

    August 24, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  13. Bob

    People are misreading the study. It doesn't say if you're less educated you're less likely to go to Church, it's saying that if you're poor you're more likely to have CHANGED your church-going status in the last ten years. The poor and uneducated previously had higher Church attendance than other groups BUT that is changing. A likely answer is the poor can't afford to follow the practices of their church. Things like giving money to the church or following the mandates of no birth control or no abortions is prohibitively expensive and maybe the poor have wised up that most church's are out-of-touch with the realities of modern life. Seriously, can anyone with half-a-brain be expected to hand over ten percent of the their income so the Pope can dress in Prada and pay lawyers to fight pedophilia lawsuits?

    August 24, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • Bill

      It would seem that the agnostic population consists of the highest educated in the land.

      And the fastest growing.

      No wonder that even the Pope fears that secularism will become the world norm before long. And I have yet to hear a persuasive argument that secularism is in any way inferior to theism. (A lot of good ones pointing the other way, but I am not here to take cheap shots)

      August 24, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  14. jocelynandkevin

    seems like bad lsat logic.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  15. Nate (Seattle, WA)

    You know it's a garbage study when the "researcher" expresses concern over the results.

    The job of research is to find truth through experimentation. It's not to further your own view of how the world is "supposed" to work.

    Why wouldn't poor people turn away from religion? If there is a god, he or she's obviously taking a dump on the poor and the sick. What's unhealthy are poor people who recognize their lot in life, but take the view that "it's all part of God's plan". That's bad, both in terms of absolving people of responsibility for how their lives turn out, and in terms of accepting their misfortune as the good intentions of some invisible, all-knowing, but cruel, deity.

    I'll also note that more educated people tend to less frequently turn to the churches in the first place.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  16. russ

    This poll means you don't have to have an education to have common sense. All I can say is, if you're educated and believe in the magic man in the sky and the big "poof" theory of creation then this isn't saying much for our education system. Hmmmm, I wonder who did this poll? No matter, the truth is just because you have an education doesn't mean your smart. It means you had the money to attend college and be able to pass tests based on facts and figures. That's it, nothing more.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • TheObvious

      The modern Church is as much of a social club or networking event as it is a place of worship. A better study would be on how many people in churches are actually well educated on there own religion and really believe the junk the church feeds them. My guess is that number would be fairly low. Quiz the average Christian on what they believe and watch them melt into a puddle of frustration and anger at you for making them think.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Olddog

      I'm feeling sorry for you Russ. You sound as if you have lost hope. I suppose that comes from the small minds that our education system creates

      August 24, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  17. pazke

    Did they consider that perhaps the less educated have to work on Sundays or late on Saturday nights? Perhaps that's the reason they aren't getting up on Sunday mornings.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Qev

      Agreed, that was my guess, as well.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • PD

      The less educated worker is the worker who is most likely stuck with a second job at night or on the weekends, or who has a less desirable shift which includes working on Sundays, or who might have a serious lack of reliable transportation or child care. This is an absurd "study" from which nothing can be concluded. I smell bias on behalf of the researchers.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  18. kindbud

    they should do a study how people who go to church are likely to be bigger hypocrites when it comes to being anti-gay. Or the link between the religious and pedophilia. maybe throw Republicans in there somewhere in that study...

    August 24, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Rob Haas

      Gees Kindbud, take a breath and let some of that hysteria out. You wouldn't happen to be an ex-Catholic, lesbian Demo would you because you sure seem to have a hard-on for a lot of groups.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  19. Bo

    =========@DavidJohnson================ I know the original sin is blamed on Adam and Eve, by many, even Christians,but Satan is the orginal sinner. I just thought you should know that–and by the way, he [Satan] will eventually pay for all the suffering, diseases, calamities qnd disasters that he has caused in this world, God is waiting for the cup of iniquity to be filled and then He will put an end to it all.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • russ

      Blah, Blah, Blah

      August 24, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • Jeff

      See, that just SOUNDS crazy. If I spoke like that in public, they would lock me up!

      August 24, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  20. John Rensen

    It is because the more educated are white collar workers, i.e. bankers, doctors, lawyers, etc. And, after figuratively raping the populous six days a week, they feel it necessary to "reconcile" on the sabbath.

    Joking aside, you see my point. The more educated, the less likely they have to work on weekends to make ends meet. So they have more time to socialize on weekends.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • jwy

      So do you not agree with the statement above, " similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,”? That seems to indicate that these "drop-outs" aren't working either (weekday or weekend).

      August 24, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Ben Jordan

      That may work for some of them... but 63% of moderately educated whites (the percentage that don't go to church) are not unemployed...

      August 24, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • John Rensen

      It is a matter of your comprehension of the statement versus mine. Again, education is in play. So don't be a jackball. The drop-outs of the labor market are from full-time payrolls. The factors of an uneducated dropping out of the work force include but not limited to: working multiple part-time jobs. Going back to school and receiving further education so they can work full-time at one job. Increased enrollment in adult education back up my understanding of the statement to which you refer.

      August 24, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
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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.