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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. steve

    This is damned lie.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  2. James

    "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,”"

    It's not similar, because this trend shows intelligence.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  3. Cotton Mather

    Among other things, religion is about raising money. If you do not have a college education, you may not be able to afford righteousness.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  4. Brian Smith

    Yes, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and Warren Buffett and even Stephen Hawking go to church every Sunday! not. 🙂
    http://atheism.about.com/b/2006/07/07/warren-buffett-atheist-philanthropist.htm (reference)

    August 24, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  5. luke

    Just like any modern day statistic which can be bent and conditioned to the desired corporate or ideological results, this garbage 'study' seems to follow fit. "Our study bla bla" how many groups of people did they go through so they could cherry pick the ideal results among the sample? and then ignore that which conflicted with the operation, if they even did any true research.

    In fact I've read the exact same story before but on the other end of the spectrum; Just remember that -IE users are dumber than the rest- study? please exempt all personal opinions on whether you think reigious or non believers are or are not yadda yadda, how can you take these studies seriously?

    August 24, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  6. WHSJ

    Total nonsense.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  7. Hans

    This makes sense to me. The less educated rely mainly on mass media for their intellectual input. Mass media systematically and almost universally ignore, minimize, caricature, or demean religion. What is the last TV show or major movie which depicted anyone seriously praying, attending a worship service, or encountering a religious professional who wasn't a charlatan? More educated folks have more inputs – and, as a result, some freedom from the "People Magazine" mentality. The mass media wage war daily on thoughtful faith, and, sadly, those who rely upon media follow the piper. How sad that the prevailing media culture so universally avoids religious belief – except insofar as it is manifested in suicide bombs, indictable offenses, and occasional embarrassing hypocrisy.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  8. True for me

    This is true for my family. People that go to church: 2 PHD, 2 masters, 1 bachelors. People that don't go to church: 3 high school education only. This includes me, my wife, and our siblings.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
  9. icreepin

    I would argue that the more educated the person the more the attempt to use social, and religious avenues to expand and advance there career and social standing.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
  10. Greg G.

    "Less educated Americans are losing religion"
    Really? If that's true, they just got a whole lot smarter as far I'm concerned!

    August 24, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • C. Smythe

      exactly, if ya don't belong to the club ya don't work, you are looked down upon and any inteligent person soon gives up. the concept of god is keeping all mankind from reaching his true potential. if you ain't in the clique you ain't anything . . .

      August 24, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  11. Bo

    ============@SHRIKE8:57================ HUH? ================================

    August 24, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  12. Falcon 78 in Northern VA

    Saint Augustine said, "Lord, let me not understand so that I may believe. Let me believe so that I may understand."

    August 24, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  13. Kletok

    The less educated are probably spending Sunday morning at their second or third job.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • MMPM

      That was precisely my thought when I looked at this. It didn't take into consideration that fewer business look at Sunday as a day of rest. These people are probably working from an early hour that day and can't take the time to go to church.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • C. Smythe

      ho ho! somethin that never occured to me, how right you are. if you aint in the clique you gotta suck the big one . . .

      August 24, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  14. Jay

    I guess the right has taken it's cynical use of religion for votes and money too far. When you can't fool the uneducated anymore, the game is up. In a few more years, religious leaders might even wake up to the fact that it was a bad idea to hop into bed with morons like Bush, Palin, Bachmann, Perry, etc, etc, etc...

    August 24, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  15. Kevin

    Interesting article. You'd think the people smart enough to get a college degree would be the ones leaving church. Goes to show that smart =/= college degree. Its all about money.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  16. Danny L. Shaw II

    Some quick research shows that this article was based on "research" that CANNOT be used to generalize to the the whole population. If you look into The General Social Survey by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) you find that, although they do use qualitative data, it is only done, in person, at the University of Chicago. They may use random sampling, but this is of a VERY limited sample and thus cannot be used to generalize, as this story does, to the wider U.S. population.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • Dallas

      What you just said is insane

      August 24, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  17. MM22

    ma: "This directly conflicts with everything I've ever seen with my own two eyes! Every single person I know with a graduate degree/JD/PhD became less and less religious going through this process."

    Many people who are more educated also associate themselves less strongly with a particular religion while still recognizing the necessary existence of a god. "Religious" as "going to church" versus "religious" as "believing in a god" are two different animals.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • karren

      yeah, I also beg to differ...

      August 24, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  18. Arecibo

    “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.”

    That is to say, they're being forced out? Are we shipping religion overseas now? If so, good riddance. Maybe we can trade them for our old jobs.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  19. newmac

    The "workers" are TIRED on Sunday. Actually pretty simple..eh?

    August 24, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  20. Greenspam

    If religion is about you and God, where is the place for Church?

    August 24, 2011 at 9:06 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.