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. Bo

    ============@Everyone================== I hope you will read my 6:15 post. I dont want to wrte it again. ===================================

    August 24, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • Hoya

      We'll all get right on that, good buddy!

      August 24, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • Good Bless the Illuminati

      Ever heard of copy & paste???

      August 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • John

      @ Bo: If you don't have a few seconds to copy and paste the comment you feel is so relevant, why would you expect the rest of humanity to have time to go hunting for it?

      August 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • i wonder


      Bo is on a cell phone. I doubt that he has that capability. It is really quite clunky trying to have a discussion with him.

      @Bo, by referring folks to that previous post, you are also referring them to the refutations posted there, which cancel it out quite nicely.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  2. Derek Czerkaski

    This is ridiculous. There's at least 20 studies that show the MORE educated you are/the higher your IQ, the LESS likely you'll attend church. Putting the spotlight on one study that goes against the grain is a poor journalistic practice.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  3. Dixie AZ

    Is this a GOP supported study? Horse pucky indeed.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  4. normalice

    death is scarier when you know about it.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  5. Good Bless the Illuminati

    Hey, isn't it weird that atheists comprise about 10 to 12 percvent of the general population. However, in prison populations atheists account for less than 1 percent. How odd that those who seemingly "lack a moral compass" aren't breaking laws and landing in the pokey.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  6. Hoya

    The less educated drink cheaper booze and thus have worse hangovers, so they can't get up for church on Sunday. It's science, people!!!

    August 24, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  7. conoclast

    Jeez, if they don't work and don't go to church that leaves a whole lotta spare time; what do these uneducated people DO?
    They can't be spending ALL their time being tea-baggers, can they?

    August 24, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • jack

      awesome. pure awesome.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  8. Mike

    Interesting, I wonder how many physicist go to church.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  9. Mark

    I don't really see the point of this article, either. So less-educated people are attending Church.... and...? I kept expecting something more but in the words of Russel Peters, "nothing is coming".

    August 24, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Mark

      Typo there. "less educated", not "less-educated".

      August 24, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  10. holymoly

    Hmm...I think that most folks who need the kind of help stated in the final paragraph of the article DO go to churches, at least for certain kinds of assistance–most places of worship offer help like food banks or gas money or help with the electric bill (just a few examples)...however, they don't usually go for the worship services.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  11. Michael. P

    I have a BS and I am going for my masters currently and I gave up church for science 7 years ago and could never go back. If you ask me it's the un-educated, less-intelligent people that still follow that structure of life that's laid out for them by people they've never met telling them what to believe. But maybe that's just me.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • Good Bless the Illuminati

      Some people like to be told what to do and think. Some people NEED to be told what to do and think. We freethinkers (aka, post-theists) are perfectly comfortable and confident taking control of our thoughts, actions, and our lives.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  12. james

    I Pastor a Church, and many who eventually find jobs, have to work on Sundays. It is a trend that I have noticed for a while.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • conoclast

      Thanks for what looks like the simple answer to the enigma: capitalism never sleeps. Time for a little creative outreach, eh Reverend?

      August 24, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • T

      So Pastor do you believe people can pick and choose what to believe and adhere to in the bible? Can they pick and choose the commandments they are agree with and pass on the one's they don't like? What is the punishment for breaking a commandment?

      August 24, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • T

      Last time I checked working on the Sabbath was punishable by death. That is if you actually follow those silly commandments anymore.....

      August 24, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  13. T

    If didn't teach children about religion until after the age of reason, this world would look a whole lot different

    August 24, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Good Bless the Illuminati

      But think how much better informed our children would be and how much sharper their critical thinking skills would be. I waited until my kids were about 8 years old before I introduced them to religion and they have both rejected it completely. Belief in unbelievable simply did not appeal to them and their better judgement took over. They are loving, compassionate atheists who have both amassed numerous leadership and community service awards.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • T

      Actually that is my exact point. Most people in the world are only religious because they were brought up that way by their parents. If taught after the age of reason, there would be a similar number of people believing in god as believe in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny

      August 24, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  14. W

    This seems a little backwards. It should be the most educated leave religion. Seriously, there is no way that any truly educated person can believe in this non-sense and if they say different it is purely to save face and not be judged by the weak minded majority. No educated person truly believes in magic. An arm reached down from the sky, played with some dirt and made a person, really? A dude living off the land, by himself, made a boat big enough to hold 2 of all of the 1million known species of animals on earth, really? A dude stuck a wooden stick in a river and the river parted to let hundreds of people walk through it, really? A virgin had a child, really? A dude waved his hand over a bottle and made water into wine, Ive seen Chris Angel do this one and I didn't believe it then either, really? I could do this for days but I wont. Look at it this way, if you told a person that knew nothing of the bible that a dude walked on water and rose from the dead and that other stuff they would look at you like you were insane, you would be laughed at. But apparently since it says it happened in a really old book written by some dudes in the desert that thought the world was flat then it must be true. Whatever. There have been countless religious beliefs through out history, the Egyptians, the Romans, Buddhist, Islam, Christianity, and on and on. What do they all have in common? There is not a single FACT to support any of them. It is all in your heads. FACT: The only reason you believe the non-sense that you do is because of where you were born and raised, pure luck of the draw. If you were born and raised in Texas you will believe something totally different than if you were born in the Republic of the Congo. So what, since you were born and raised in Texas you are right and the Congo people are wrong? I cant help but to laugh at this foolishness. Come on people, grow up and think for yourselves.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • T

      Delusion is what keeps most people sane. When the world around you is difficult and your family and social life is horrible, accepting a delusion is almost the same as taking hard drugs. It is an escape and it allows for you to let go of responsibility and let someone else be in control. This relief, no matter how delusional is what has kept the most miserable people in our worlds history going. From the slaves in ancient egypt, to the poorest of the poor in South America and Europe.

      You would think that believing in an supernatural being who took a personal interest in your specifically and answered prayers would be a good thing and make someone happy, but it doesn't really. The religious can not be happy until you believe it too

      Anyone who believes the laws of physics and nature are suspended due to magical acts by unseen forces in the sky, is delusional

      August 24, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • K

      Everything came from nothing. Really?. Life arouse from non-life. Really? Order from chaos. Really? Sounds like you're version of life takes quite a bit more 'faith' than mine. Open your mind and look around you? Science does more to prove Intelligent Design than most 'educated' people care to admit. Irreducible complexity – That kinda shoots a big ol' hole in the THEORY of evolution. One day every knee will bow. 🙂

      August 24, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • T

      I can tell where it didn't come from. It didn't come from some magic spirit in the sky who you base your entire delusion on. Of all the information available to you today on science, physics and history, you choose to ignore this and base your entire life belief system around a story told thousands of years ago in Bronze age Palestine to around 30,000 illiterate animal herders and farmers.

      Can't you see how pathetic this looks to an intelligent bystander who was not raised to believe, but has to look at the facts of why he would want to believe.

      I have no idea how the world began, but guess what neither do you. The difference is, I am not telling you I know and you are. You would think that having a personal relationship with a god, who speaks to you and answers your wishes would make you happy, but it doesn't. You can't be happy until I believe it too...

      August 24, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • K

      "While absolute proof of the existence of God cannot be realized by any human being, the great weight of evidence, when rationally evaluated, clearly balances the scales heavily in favor of God. We can demonstrate "beyond a reasonable doubt" that "He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6)." ICR.ORG

      I recommend spending some time at the ICR.ORG website. Maybe that will help open your eyes. No need to fear the truth... 🙂

      August 24, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • That's ridiculous

      The ENTIRE weight of evidence is that there is no God. There is no evidence of miracles or supernatural forces at all – none whatsoever. None.

      If you have evidence, you better start showing it, because my bullshit detector is going off the charts on that foolish claim.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • K

      Evidence, you ask.? Spend some time at http://WWW.ICR.ORG. Lots of science that supports God. 🙂 P.S. You need to RELAX a bit....

      August 24, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      If icr, and specifically the so- called evidence for god, is all you have as evidence, you have nothing but a bunch of unproven assertions. Stephen Hawkin is way more believable!

      August 25, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  15. JLC

    and another worthless study reported by CNN. What's next, trying to find a correlation between eating peanut butter sandwiches and riding unicycles?

    August 24, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • conoclast

      Every time I eat peanut butter I get this weird one-wheel woodie!

      August 24, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • Good Bless the Illuminati

      Did you see that study last spring about peanut butter and unicycles? It was a weird correlation but it's there.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  16. Kevin

    This is very strange. I thought that it was exactly the opposite.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  17. JBin Colorado

    I have a BA, MA and almost a PhD and gave up on organized religion a long time ago. Blind belief no matter what the Bible really says is just beyond me.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  18. LAM

    I quit believing when I learned about dinosaurs in grade school. I didn't need much more education than that.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  19. steve

    This is a damned lie.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  20. MMM

    Education, marriage, and parenthood...that's part of it...take that out and keep with the scriptures and perhaps they'll attend. Many churches require a credit card be presented. Take the "business" out of serving God and the churches would crumble. These folks can't afford to go to church...money should never be an issue.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:29 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.