August 24th, 2011
03:17 PM ET
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.
“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.”
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