Education affects Americans' religiosity -- but not how you might think

Aug 08, 2011

It's pretty much a given that the more educated someone becomes, the more likely they are to question their religious beliefs, stop going to church and even abandon their faith entirely.

Or is it?

A new University of Nebraska-Lincoln study challenges that age-old notion with findings that show education actually has a positive effect on Americans' churchgoing habits, their devotional practices, their emphasis on in daily life and their support for religious leaders to weigh in on the issues of the day.

The work, to be published in a forthcoming edition of the journal Review of Religious Research, analyzed a nationwide sample of thousands of respondents to the General Social Survey. The analysis determined that education does, in fact, influence Americans' religious beliefs and activities -- but the effects are more complicated than suggests.

"Education influences strategies of action, and these strategies of action are relevant to some and activities, but not others," said Philip Schwadel, associate professor of sociology at UNL and author of the study. "The effects of education on religion are not simple increases or decreases. In many ways, effects will vary, based on how you define religion."

For example, the study found higher levels of education eroded Americans' viewpoints that their specific religion is the "one true faith" and that the Bible is the literal word of God. At the same time, education was positively associated with belief in the afterlife. And while more highly educated Americans were somewhat less likely to definitely believe in God, it's because some of them believed in a higher power, not because they were particularly likely to not believe at all.

The research also found that disaffiliating, or dropping religion altogether, was not a popular option for highly educated Americans -- in fact, having a greater level of education was associated most often with converting to mainline, non-evangelical Protestant denominations.

The study is unique, Schwadel said, because it examines education's effects on religion in the various ways that Americans are religious -- from their different beliefs, their varied ways of participating and the nature of their affiliations with specific denominations.

Also among the study's findings:

  • Education had a strong and positive effect on religious participation. With each additional year of education, the odds of attending religious services increased 15 percent.
  • Increases in education were associated with reading the Bible. With each additional year of education, the odds of reading the Bible at least occasionally increased by 9 percent.
  • Education was related to respondents' switching of religious affiliations. The odds of switching to a mainline Protestant denomination increased by 13 percent for each year of education.
  • The more educated respondents were, the more likely they were to question the role of religion in secular society. Yet, they were against curbing the voices of religious leaders on societal issues and supported those leaders' rights to influence people's votes.

"The results suggest that highly educated Americans are not opposed to religion -- even religious leaders stating political opinions," Schwadel said. "But they are opposed to what may be perceived as religion being forced on secular society."

The research illustrates the unique, voluntary American brand of religiosity, he said, and should open up a discussion about the interactions between education and religion in modern American life.

"It's clear that though the religious worldviews of the highly educated differ from the worldviews of those with little education, religion plays an important role in the lives of highly educated Americans," Schwadel said. "And religion remains relevant to Americans of all levels."

Explore further: Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Survey finds many doctors religious

Jun 23, 2005

A University of Chicago survey suggests 76 percent of physicians believe in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife.

Study: Generation X more loyal to religion

Aug 26, 2010

Generation X, the set of Americans who came of age in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is often branded as a rules-rejecting, authority-questioning group.

Recommended for you

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

9 hours ago

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 35

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Y8Q412VBZP21010
3.9 / 5 (7) Aug 08, 2011
It is reassuring that level of education is inversely proportional to the odds of being a fundy. But anyone who has dealt with fundies hardly needs a survey to figure that out.
ryggesogn2
1.4 / 5 (9) Aug 08, 2011
It is reassuring that level of education is inversely proportional to the odds of being a fundy. But anyone who has dealt with fundies hardly needs a survey to figure that out.

Fundies like socialists or AGWites?
thales
4.3 / 5 (3) Aug 08, 2011
I wonder if the researchers have come up with a theory to pull the data together. It sounds (to me) that education may result in more "belief in belief" while ironically reducing actual belief in the religion itself. At the same time, education apparently results in viewing religion more as a device for social change.

At any rate, more education still means less faith in that specific religion.
thales
3 / 5 (4) Aug 08, 2011
Also - I have a pet peeve about the phrase "higher power". What does that even mean? An alien civilization could be a higher power. Shoot, the sun is a higher power.

The next person I hear say they believe in a higher power, I'm going to call a sun-worshiper.
Y8Q412VBZP21010
5 / 5 (4) Aug 08, 2011
Fundies like socialists or AGWites?


I suppose we could include "INSERT YOUR FAVORITE DESPISED GROUP OF PEOPLE HERE" at will, but to keep things simple (and on-topic) I was referring to Jehovah's Witnesses and their like who come to my door with the Good Book in one hand and an attitude in the other.
jvanderh
1 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2011
This sounds like it was written by a child. "It's pretty much a given" has no place in scientific work, and shouldn't someone who writes professionally know that "someone" is a singular article?
ryggesogn2
3 / 5 (8) Aug 08, 2011
As one peels back the onion, one learns more, becomes more 'educated', one should begin to grasp how much is NOT known. Some seem to think they are beginning to know it all instead of realizing how limited human understanding of the universe it.

Is it surprising how many cosmologists are open to the concept of God? It shouldn't be.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 08, 2011
As one peels back the onion, one learns more, becomes more 'educated', one should begin to grasp how much is NOT known. Some seem to think they are beginning to know it all instead of realizing how limited human understanding of the universe it.

Is it surprising how many cosmologists are open to the concept of God? It shouldn't be.
So... Informed people realize how much there is to know and summarily conclude this means god exists?

I don't think so. You have a lot to learn grasshopper.
kochevnik
3.4 / 5 (5) Aug 08, 2011
Is it surprising how many cosmologists are open to the concept of God? It shouldn't be.


I severely doubt most cosmologists incorporate your god in their theories with any greater frequency than Santa Claus. Besides deists don't fit into your literal interpretation of the new/old TEST-AMEN-T, which literally means testimony to the Egyptian shape-shifting god AMEN RA, son of ATUN who created the world in an act of masturbation.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (6) Aug 08, 2011
I would encourage anyone to read "The Demon and the Quantum: From the Pythagorean Mystics to Maxwell's Demon and Quantum Mystery"
http://www.wiley....83.html.

Follow Paul Davies here: http://cosmos.asu.edu/

Vendicar_Decarian
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 08, 2011
C L A P T R A P
Jim1138
5 / 5 (1) Aug 09, 2011
I read a newspaper quip to two biochemist phds "40% of scientists believe in god" The simultaneous utterances of "that many" and "that's all" was classic.
BenjaminButton
5 / 5 (1) Aug 09, 2011
Anyone can come up with statistics to rationalise their perspective. You could carry out surveys until the cows come home and gather "valuable data" but until you sit a real cross-section of society down and hook them up to a lie detector you won't find any scientifically valuable facts.
dogbert
1 / 5 (2) Aug 09, 2011
An excellent study. One of the few which does not promote a preconceived notion.
hb_
not rated yet Aug 09, 2011
Some of the results are quite reasonable.

Increased education correlates with increased church participation. There is probably a social pressure for people of middle- and upper class to attend church services. So, higher education means better economy, and consequently an increased religious participation.

The same social pressures could act to make the educated choose the most main stream and the least out-spoken religion, and hence switch affiliation to a 'mainland protestant denomination'. Also plausible.

With increased education the amount of reading in general probably increases, including reading the bible. Nothing revolutionary here..

Now, the last finding is more difficult to grasp. So, the more educated a person becomes, the less he thinks that religion should determine the rules of the state, but the more he thinks that the religous leaders should try to do just that?
Billy_Madison
3 / 5 (2) Aug 09, 2011
I find it humorous how angry some get whenever God gets thrown around. Said individuals then go on condemning those "believers" and judging them to be irrational, dumb individuals and extending their accusations onward in the more negative spectrum of childish debate.

But never do they realize they become what they so despise, not the belief system(s) them self, but the stereotype applied to those who follow.
rwinners
not rated yet Aug 09, 2011
I doubt the statistics. I do not doubt that as people become more educated, the realize that religion has no place in government.
Happy Days!
ScienceLust
3 / 5 (2) Aug 13, 2011
"University of Nebraska"
That answers a lot of questions.
lonewolfmtnz
1 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2011
Utter (w)Holy BULL $HIT
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2011
religion has no place in government.

How about the morality supported by religions?
Does that have any place in govt?
How about the socialist religion or the global warming religion or the atheist religion?
Jmaximus
not rated yet Aug 14, 2011
I think more likely people are afraid of telling the truth about religion. How can any educated person read the bible and not see the utter vile ridiculousness of it? Anybody who claims to believe that the Universe is 6,000 years old and world is flat may be educated, but they are not smart. Then there are moral values like children that back talk should be stoned[murdered] or that slavery is just dandy. The bible is nothing but a bad copy and paste job from older religions that predate it by as much as a 1500 years. The sooner will tell the truth about religion the better off we will be.
Jmaximus
not rated yet Aug 14, 2011
How about the morality supported by religions?
Does that have any place in govt?
How about the socialist religion or the global warming religion or the atheist religion?


Religion is the belief in a super natural higher power, how exactly does this apply to socialism or global warming? Answer: it doesn't. You are using an Orwellian distortion to support your illogical beliefs in a Bronze Age Mythology. Hot is cold, up is down, fast is slow.

Jmaximus
not rated yet Aug 14, 2011
Also - I have a pet peeve about the phrase "higher power". What does that even mean? An alien civilization could be a higher power. Shoot, the sun is a higher power.

The next person I hear say they believe in a higher power, I'm going to call a sun-worshiper.


I think it is a way of saying you are an agnostic without the risk of social backlash by religious radicals.
kochevnik
2 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2011
religion has no place in government.

How about the morality supported by religions?
Does that have any place in govt?
How about the socialist religion or the global warming religion or the atheist religion?


Morality is a system of judgments enshrined by the church in conjunction with a monarchy or fascist dictator to hunt heretics. It's a system of judgments fundies apply to all strangers and no friends. So yes, it has a place in a fascist government to which you seem inclined. Socialism is a prioritization of human rights over the aristocratic, not a belief. Atheism isn't a religion but freedom from the same. You need a basic education, religious or otherwise, to weed out those oxymorons residing between your ears.
dogbert
1 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2011
Jmaximus,
How can any educated person read the bible and not see the utter vile ridiculousness of it? Anybody who claims to believe that the Universe is 6,000 years old and world is flat may be educated, but they are not smart.


I recognize that you are just trolling, but such inaccuracies require a response.

The bible does not say the earth is 6000 years old.
The bible does not say the earth is flat.

Perhaps you should read it before you deprecate it?
kochevnik
not rated yet Aug 14, 2011
Jmaximus,
The bible does not say the earth is 6000 years old.
The bible does not say the earth is flat.

Perhaps you should read it before you deprecate it?


The new/old TEST-AMEN-T in honor of the shape-shifting god AMEN-RA says just about everything and, by logical extension, nothing at all. It was written by drugged-out hermits strung out on mushrooms and a diet of locusts decades after their drug trip. So, please clarify, do you advocate better religion through drugs or a return to the good old days of black death and torturing heretics? I guess the latter case would imply no Jesus reboot for a millennium, which is kind of a letdown after all that Jesus Christ Superstar hype.

By the way, putting your hands together in prayer is an ancient gesture for oral sex on a penis. Add a shout of "AMEN" after the prayer for a final flourish! Oh, you do that already?
dogbert
1 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2011
kochevnik,

You have completed your blasphemy for today.
kochevnik
not rated yet Aug 14, 2011
You have completed your blasphemy for today.


Those who read other books, not just the bible, call that "history."
ryggesogn2
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2011
Socialism is a prioritization of human rights over the aristocratic, not a belief.

Really? Why does socialism always fail to protect individual human rights?
Answer, because it must. Socialism MUST violate individual human rights like the right to property.
Since socialism fails, but people still have faith in its utopian fantasies, it becomes a religion.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Aug 15, 2011
how exactly does this apply to socialism or global warming

Check out hotties faith here:
"we are heading towards another great mass extinction in 100-500 year time frame. IT IS THAT SERIOUS."
http://www.physor...firstCmt
rawa1
1 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2011
The contemporary science is controversial. This controversy starts with duality of quantum mechanics and general relativity, which are predicting quite different results and predictions. Therefore some people are becoming more religious, when they become educated and familiar with these paradoxes.

The evolution of reality understanding can be modelled with spreading of ripples along water surface. At the beginning, the reality is complex and chaotic due the Brownian noise. With increasing distance, the transverse, well deterministic ripples will prevail in mediation of information and the deterministic models of contemporary physics can be applied into this view well.

But with increasing scope even the spreading of transverse waves becomes chaotic again and it switches back into longitudinal waves. Therefore, with deepening of our knowledge we would perceive the world less deterministic, than before which would lead many people into religious perception of reality.
rawa1
1 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2011
There is another aspect of informational explosion: the people are facing to increasing number of informations, but their mental capacity doesn't increase so fast. Therefore many people are forced to accept new informations without deeper understanding, simply because they have no time for it. It leads the layman people into religious attitude naturally.

We should realize, the formal science - modern physics in particular - isn't very intuitive without aether model. Many people are becoming confused with many controversial insights of recent time and their acceptance of these new findings becomes as religious, as the stance of medieval people toward official religion of their era. People have a good will to accept the modern theories, because they're indeed "scientific" - but it doesn't change the fact, they don't understand it at all. And this is exactly, what the trustful, religious approach means.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2011
By the way, putting your hands together in prayer is an ancient gesture for oral sex on a penis.
Haha this guys funny.
Morality is a system of judgments enshrined by the church in conjunction with a monarchy or fascist dictator to hunt heretics. It's a system of judgments fundies apply to all strangers and no friends.
Close. It's actually part of the tribal dynamic, of internal altruism coupled with external animosity. Biological.

Biology is the source of morality.
http://rechten.el...RID2.pdf

Religions learned how to commandeer it in order to apply it constructively.

As you point out it could be used to artificially categorize others as either friends or enemies. This comes in handy during conquest and assimilation, and purging and pogrom, in forming an EMPIRE.
kochevnik
not rated yet Aug 16, 2011
Answer, because it must. Socialism MUST violate individual human rights like the right to property.

That's the Randoid mythology in a nutshell. Property isn't a fundamental human right. In fact, it's a symptom of SCARCITY. Those without are forced to RENT like serfs. In abundance the value of property falls to near zero because, like virtual property, it is a ubiquitous commodity. As for fixed public goods like land, air and water no man has the right to horde public goods, which merely stymies public welfare without benefiting anybody.

I fail to grasp why fundies seem so enamored with property when, by their own theology, they can't take it with them.
Vendicar_Decarian
not rated yet Aug 16, 2011
RyggTard... I asked two questions (among many) and you have continued to refuse to answer them.

Here they are again...

---
So you would agree then that children have the same rights as adults. They are part of your "all" category aren't they? Or are rights not universal for all people in contradiction of your Randite ideology?

I take it that you believe - as do all other Libertarian/Randites that laws against drug use, prostitution and so called "victim-less" crimes are also illegitimate and should be abolished?
---

I continue to await your answer.

More news stories

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...