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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. Liz1388

    "[L]ess educated whites are less likely to get or stay married". Really? How'd I miss the national headlines for that study? Also, why did a "study" asking about church attendance not ask non-attenders to explain why they quit? Could it be so they can speculate it is due to "lack of marriage"? Like other commenters here, I call, BOOOGUS! I bet this "study" was funded and managed by Focus On Family, or some similar marriage-biased group who claim it solves all social ills, the common cold and gout too.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  2. Coop

    Has anyone considered that the critical thinking skills of the contemporary college graduate have deteriorated? The disciplines that would typically put God or religion to rigorous examination aren't exactly seeing huge numbers these days. Engineering, business, and even teaching (to mention a few) rarely touch on these kind of issues.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  3. IceT

    Same shyte different pile ... how many times will they reuse/recycle this article?!

    August 24, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
  4. Qauntum physic Scientist

    I am a PHd doctor scientstst and I have to tell you athiests that science prove JESUS! Every knee shal bow!!!

    August 24, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • deist

      Where would this evidence be? Also, the correct spelling is quantum.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • Thou Art A Liar

      Lots of religious people claiming to be Ph.Ds today who cannot correctly spell Ph.D.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • Saboth

      My wife says I'm pretty bow legged, so I guess I have one foot in the door. Or at least knee.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • IceT

      C'mon you guys ... you can't see Qauntum's comment for what it is ... sarcasm! lol

      August 24, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Poe's Law

      "It's difficult to distinguish between parodies of religious fundamentalism (or, more generally, parodies of any crackpot or extremist belief) and its genuine proponents, since they both seem equally insane"

      August 24, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  5. Saboth

    Well the uneducated and jobless are also the drinkers, drug addicts, meth heads that work 3rd shift at 7-11, so they are probably pretty tired Sunday mornings. I also think the results of the linked "study" that finds the more educated you are, the more religious you are to be misleading. The more educated you are, the more likely you are to question beliefs and leaders. Anyone I have known that is highly educated is more KNOWLEDGEABLE about religion, but they are not really that religious in general. Meaning they don't say their prayers every night hoping their cousin's brain tumor magically disappears, and they don't vote for Michele Bachman because their pastor told them to.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Law_4_Man

      The "jobless" work 3rd shift at 7-11?

      August 24, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  6. Joe

    I believe in god, but I also have an issue with studies like these. First of all I have an IQ of 145. I was a horrible student. I took 1 course in college and dropped out. So when someone says less educated, that does not mean less intelligent. And does the fact that I did not go to college mean I am less educated then someone who did? No it does not. I am a person who for the most part is self educated. One can be educated without going to college. There are highly educated and smart people who believe as well as there are those who do not. Then there are those who will come on here and call people ridiculous names just because they believe. I tend to think most of those people are not very educated as well as most likely pretty low on the IQ scale.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • Kebos

      Calling others names over religion is a poor act. Humanity is and can be much better than this. I do not believe in any god. I believe when I die I return to the state I was in before I was born. A nothingness. I'm ok with that. I enjoy life to it's fullest knowing that this is the most likely end scenario. While I am on this planet living I will be good to my fellow man and support anyone I meet along the way. As I would want others to do to me. But I do not pay homage to a being that does not exist. Nor do I accept I have original sin. I do have sin but it is of my own doing and for which I make amends to make rights along the way. A rather simple approach to living, not caught up in all the man-made convolutions that is religion.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      It's not very intelligent to assess the intelligence of others on the basis of whether they agree with you about religion or anything else.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Jesus

      Dear Joe,
      It seems that you have a fairly large chip on your shoulder over your lack of education. Also, an IQ test is just a test, it mean very little in the world. Have a great day analyzing how to flip a burger in a more efficient way.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Saboth

      Well see, there are multiple types of intelligence. Social intelligence, cognitive, etc. Your 145 IQ can perhaps relate to problem solving, but it doesn't make you educated. Education comes from the study of various topics and ideals that you haven't been exposed to previously. That is where college comes in. It doesn't make you any smarter, but it helps expose you to the world around you, and helps you expand your thought processes. Art history, music history, world history, world politics, statistics, world literature etc.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Doubts, Doubts

      I am afraid that your logic is not that of a person with a 145 I.Q. The evidence of your writing is that you either squandered that intelligence and let it atrophe, or you are not telling the truth.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  7. Robin Bray

    Of course the number without college degrees is much higher than those with degrees. So the results are no surprise. Everything being equal this is the expected finding.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  8. Satan

    Sorry guys, there is a God. Also, he doesn't give a rat's ass about any of you or humanity. There also is no heaven for any of you numbnuts that think if you go to church and praise His name you will live forever. He's busy developing other parts of the Universe right now, and I got to say He is doing a much better job in those parts.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • Kebos

      Actually, I heard it from a good source that he rested on the 7th day after creation and then said "Screw it. This resting stuff is not bad. I should have done this earlier" And so he took the rest of his time off asince then nd continues too. Somewhere near Betelgeuse, I was told.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • xtx89

      there is no god.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      xtx, a categorical denial of the existence of a god is as illogical as a categorical belief in a god. On the other hand, a realization of a lack of evidence for a god is reasonable. Remember, "lack of evidence is not evidence of lack."

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

    I've noticed that religious articles get huge input. This is either a really popular topic or CNN is reluctant to limit the comments. Religion is scary.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  10. Matthew

    There will be prayers as long as there are tests.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • Lindsay Lohan's Guide to Getting Vodka in Prison

      If you studied, you do not need to pray.

      The people who pray before a test are the ones who did not study like they were supposed to do, and are asking God for something they do not deserve.

      Those who pray before a test are actually the morally slack ones.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  11. Jo

    Did they consider that the less educated are more likely to be working shifts that do not align with the religious timeclock? If you are working 6 days a week or excessive hours to pay the bills then you are not likely to have the energy to get up sunday morning or will have to work instead. Not to mention that most regulars at church spend more time judging others, gossiping and showing off (nice clothes etc) than actually communing with a higher power. Why would anyone who didn't fit the mold want to subject themselves to that when life is hard enough for them. I love the idea that church is a comunity where people help each other. I just don't see it happen.

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

      I was going to express these same thoughts but you beat me to it. Also going to church more often does NOT equate to being more religious.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • Allison

      Did they consider that the less educated are more likely to be working shifts that do not align with the religious timeclock?

      Here, here to that. I thought the same thing when I read the article. The poor work Sundays. They have to.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • Allison

      ...and if they're not working, they're catching up on some much needed sleep. I'm educated but on Sundays I worship at The Church of the King-Sized Bed.

      Allison

      August 24, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  12. good

    They should probably stay out of church too. Last thing uneducated folks need is preachers after their wallet and filling their brains with hokum and bigotry.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  13. Kebos

    Oh please. This article is ridiculous. It's purpose is to prop up an antiquated notion that we are all serfs to a cosmic presence and that mostly the college educated believe that. Well, I have a list of credentials and I don't believe one iota of this nonsense. Nor do most of my colleagues. We've come a long way from the war-minded middle-Easterns and desert shepherds of 2,000 years ago. They might have believed that rainbows were a sign from god that no more genocide would be conducted against humanity but people of this age do not. Debunk the silliness and move on to promote humanity to a higher plan where everyone truly is treated equally, justly and compassionately.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • God's God!

      I really hope that day will come but not holding my breath.
      Religion is a double edged sword. Some people don't know how to structure their lives without direction.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • Kebos

      I wholeheartedly agree with you on this. Religion does offer some structure and 'socialness' to some people's lives. It would be great to see that replaced with something that doesn't offer the false hope that religion does and let's all people live their lives in peace and fulfillment. Until that day, humanity will continue to suffer.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      I have no problem if one believes in God, or the tooth fairy, or Thor; I have a big problem when those believers insist that I believe as they do, or insist that I do as they believe.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Saboth

      @sqeptiq. I think that's my problem. I attempt to look at both sides of the issue. I'd like to believe in God, but I've seen no proof. I haven't see any proof that there isn't a God either, but I see no reason to worship something I am unsure of. And no, attending church and reading a book isn't going to change my mind.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  14. Lackey

    The stunningly bad architecture and stupefyingly ugly decor in the vast majority of churches should be the first tip that you're not in the presence of the sharpest people in the world.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  15. Logical Result

    Even though I think this research is balogna, My mother would call these people "educated fools" just because you passed some classes, doesnt mean you're the brightest star in the sky.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  16. dtruth

    From My observations in college while obtaining a degree in astronomy most of the professors I spoke with believed in GOD it was the students who did not believe the ones who knew a little believed everything put out by the media after all it was the media who had religion taken out of school in favor of evolution and I came across nothing in my studies that disproved the existence of GOD only a person's willingness not to believe in HIM

    August 24, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • Kebos

      One cannot disprove or prove the existence of god. That is the point. But to be able to not achieve either from basis in fact does not automatically default that god exists. And don't cite the bible, koran or talmud as a source from which we should all be convinced that this is proof. Have you read these? Very simple-minded stuff. Far from something that a divine being would jot down.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Neither you, nor anyone else can prove a negative.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Saboth

      Are you sure you weren't getting a degree in astrology? I can't imagine real college professors discussing their religious beliefs in class, unless it was perhaps a class on religion. Also, this school didn't have English as a requirement? You wrote an entire paragraph that was missing about 10 commas, 5 periods and 2-3 semi and regular colons.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  17. Jay

    Not a surprise. It doesn't take a college degree to realize religion is bunk.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • Good Bless the Illuminati

      No kidding. My kids are in middle school and they figured it out. They sure have fun debating their bible thumper friends who have no idea why they believe what they do. No critical thinking skills whatsoever. Blind alligiance...is that a trait we want our kids to exhibit? If so, kids can then be talked into anything. Scary thought if you ask me.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • God's God!

      It is a wonderful ting to see a young mind figure things out on their own when you don't put garbage in them.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  18. tad

    this article is complete BS...reminds me of the time i completely made up a science project about ants behaving differently when exposed to different kinds of music...

    like one of the other comments said, its probably because less educated people have to work on sunday...

    and why does one have to attend church to be considered religious?

    August 24, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • parker

      You are exactly correct with your post!

      August 24, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • Lackey

      Did the ants wave their arms in the air like the Jesus people do when they felt the Spirit?

      August 24, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  19. TruthSeeker

    @Lam, don't you know dinosaurs are in the bible? Check out Job 42. I think you'd be shocked.

    August 24, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • i wonder

      Shocked, all right. Shocked that you don't know that "Job" is just a STORY. There is not one shred of evidence that any of it actually occurred. Have you never read a story with a fire-breathing dragon in it, or other giant, menacing monster? Have you never read a rags-to-riches story? Authors with active imaginations can dream up *any* kind of fantasy. This one even ends with Job living happily after - how convenient!

      Perhaps there is a pearl of wisdom in the story for people to remember to appreciate what they have and to overcome adversity. Read Aesop's fables, there is much wisdom there too... and you don't have to believe that the animals that he used as illustrations actually talked to understand their relevance.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  20. Emmanuel Goldstien

    Every year a 'study' says that the more intelligent a person is the more/less likely they are to go to church. EVERY ONE ends up being debunked under scrutiny. NONE of these studies are unbiased, they are ALL done to make one side look more intelligent than the other. I am agnostic, but I have known plenty of intelligent people who believe in the man in the clouds. You MAY be able to find a correlation between someone being logical and religious (maybe), but any study like this is just BUNK!

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

      Sounds like you are actually an atheist. Agnostic just means you don't believe it's possible to fully know. You can still believe one way or the other. Since it sounds like you lack belief in a god, if that is correct you would be an atheist.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:54 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.