Less educated Americans turning their backs on religion

Aug 21, 2011

While religious service attendance has decreased for all white Americans since the early 1970s, the rate of decline has been more than twice as high for those without college degrees compared to those who graduated from college, according to new research to be presented at the 106th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

"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 lead researcher W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia.

The study focuses on whites because black and Latino is less divided by education and income. Most whites who report a are , evangelical , mainline Protestants, Mormons, or Jews.

Relying on nationally representative data from the and the of Family Growth, the study finds that moderately educated whites—those who have a high school degree but who did not graduate from a 4-year college—attended religious services in the 1970s at about the same rate as the most educated whites—those who at a minimum graduated from a 4-year college—but they attended at much lower frequencies in the 2000s.

The least educated white Americans—those who did not graduate from high school—attended religious services less frequently than both the moderately educated and most educated in the 1970s and that remained the case in the 2000s. "The least educated have been consistently less religiously engaged than even the moderately educated, meaning the gap between the least educated and most educated is even larger than the one between the moderately educated and most educated," Wilcox said.

In the 1970s, among those aged 25-44, 51 percent of college-educated whites attended religious services monthly or more, compared to 50 percent of moderately educated whites, and 38 percent of the least educated whites. In the 2000s, among those aged 25-44, 46 percent of college-educated whites attended monthly or more, compared to 37 percent of moderately educated whites, and 23 percent of the least educated whites.

Wilcox views this disengagement among the less educated as troubling because religious institutions typically provide their members with benefits—such as improved physical and psychological health, social networks, and civic skills—that may be particularly important for the less educated, who often lack the degree of access to social networks and civic skills that the college-educated have.

"Today, the market and the state provide less financial security to the less educated than they once did, and this is particularly true for the moderately educated—those who have high school degrees, but didn't graduate from a 4-year college," 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."

The study also shows that Americans with higher incomes attend religious services more often, and those who have experienced unemployment at some point over the past 10 years attend less often. In addition, the study finds that those who are married (especially if they have children), those who hold more conservative views toward premarital sex, and those who lost their virginity later than their peers, attend more frequently.

Indeed, the study points out that modern religious institutions tend to promote a family-centered morality that valorizes marriage and parenthood, and they embrace traditional middle-class virtues such as self-control, delayed gratification, and a focus on education.

Over the past 40 years, however, the moderately educated have become less likely to hold familistic beliefs and less likely to get and stay married, compared to college-educated adults. During the same period, wages have fallen and rates of unemployment have risen markedly for moderately educated men, while wages have remained stagnant for moderately educated women. For the least educated—those without high school degrees—the economic situation has been even worse, and they have also become less likely to hold familistic beliefs and less likely to get and stay married, compared to college-educated adults.

Because less educated whites are now less likely to be stably employed, to earn a decent income, to be married with children, and to hold familistic views, it makes sense that they also do not as often attend services at religious institutions that continue to uphold conventional norms, Wilcox said.

"While we recognize that not everyone wishes to worship, and that religious diversity can be valuable, we also think that the existence of a large group of less educated Americans that is increasingly disconnected from religious institutions is troubling for our society," said Andrew Cherlin, co-author of the study and a professor of sociology and public policy at the Johns Hopkins University. "This development reinforces the social marginalization of less educated Americans who are also increasingly disconnected from the institutions of marriage and work."

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Roj
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 21, 2011
As more religious institutions enforce tithing accountability of its members, they can be more selective of wealth and class of their members.
douglas2
3 / 5 (2) Aug 21, 2011
tithing! when I cut back, then stopped contributing, it was suggested that I tithe my unemployment compensation. I suppose that after that has ended, I should tithe my drawing down of savings. All at the same time the ultra wealthy just keep strangling the economy.
LuckyBrandon
2 / 5 (4) Aug 21, 2011
Don't they have this backwards...it tends to be the less educated whom believe in the fallacies of religion (and yes I know there are exceptions such as Einstein).
Squirrel
1 / 5 (1) Aug 21, 2011
No evidence the "less educated" believe the fallacies of religion less only that they do not go so much to church.
UnarmedMephisto
5 / 5 (4) Aug 21, 2011
Actually, LuckyBrandon, Einstein wasn't religious at all.
Nanobanano
5 / 5 (3) Aug 21, 2011
People don't go to church because they realize the organizations are corrupt, and in no way reflect the teachings or practices of Jesus or the early church.

Biblically, tithing was abolished under the new covenant, BTW. I think it is mentioned exactly a few times in the New Testament, but most of those are where Jesus is criticizing the fact the pharisees are hypocrites about it.

Church in America has become nothing mroe than a ponzi scheme to make the pastor and a few of their buddies wealthy at everyone else's expense. It certainly isn't about finding God, and it certainly isn't about doing good for needy people either, most of the time.

No true Christian belongs in a church.
FloydPinkerton
4.8 / 5 (4) Aug 21, 2011
Einstein was not religious in that he believed in a personal god, he was astounded by the awe of the universe as described by science.
Skepticus_Rex
1 / 5 (1) Aug 21, 2011
No true Christian belongs in a church.

That's pretty funny considering that even according to no less than the Bible, Jesus and his apostles organized a church. Must not have been true Christians, either... :)
Skepticus_Rex
1 / 5 (1) Aug 21, 2011
Biblically, tithing was abolished under the new covenant, BTW. I think it is mentioned exactly a few times in the New Testament, but most of those are where Jesus is criticizing the fact the pharisees are hypocrites about it.


No need for tithing when the followers gave everything to the church to be distributed to everyone, and with honesty regarding it enforced by "The Holy Ghost." :)

(See Acts 4:32-5:11, by the way).
kochevnik
not rated yet Aug 21, 2011
Perhaps more giant stone phallus obelisks should be constructed in rural areas, encircled by stone vaginas as built at the Vatican and the Washington Monument? Penis worship provides members [sic] with benefits such as improved physical and psychological health, social networks, and civic skills. Masturbation rituals, excretion of breast milk, and blood letting restore appreciation for the sacred "River of Life."
Nanobanano
3 / 5 (4) Aug 21, 2011
No true Christian belongs in a church.

That's pretty funny considering that even according to no less than the Bible, Jesus and his apostles organized a church. Must not have been true Christians, either... :)


Jesus was also the one who chased the priests and others out of the temple, possibly on two seperate occasions, because of the abusive merchandising and money changing that was being done there under the guise of a "requirement" to worship God.

there's a clear example in the Gospel of John. If Jesus was here today in person, I think one of the first things he'd do is kick most of the priests, cardinals, popes, pastors and deacons, etc, etc right out of the church.

How do I know? Well, I don't know absolutely, but as stated, there is strong precedent in the Bible, because he did it then for lesser offences.
kochevnik
3.3 / 5 (4) Aug 21, 2011
There is no proof a Jesus ever existed, and plenty of evidence he was indeed Julius Caesar. Moreover crosses in Rome were used for commemoration on shields. Crucifixions were carried out by binding the accused to trees.
finitesolutions
1 / 5 (1) Aug 21, 2011
Even if Jesus existed he got what he deserved : death! You do not go around mocking the establishment like that. He ended up on the cross for the others to see what not to do. Shame it spawn a religion but the Jesus guy was just a wacko .
Amen.
irjsiq
1 / 5 (1) Aug 22, 2011
Don't they have this backwards...it tends to be the less educated whom believe in the fallacies of religion (and yes I know there are exceptions such as Einstein).


Are WE not paying the price: Circa: Marx: "Religion is the Opiate of the People!"
Religion vs. Juarez murder-rate, ALL Due to America's 'Drug Thirst'!
Thinking about 'Thought', and considering the nascence thereof, was subsequent to observing a 'rendering' of Atoms, passing through an Atom Wide Portal . . . In an Orderly Fashion! Contrast to Deaths during a 'Stampede' to/through Blocked Exits . . . Atoms/Thought . . . both had to come from somewhere, and would have more likely experienced Greater success Together! See Also 'LICHENS' ?Primordial Life form which Exists because of 'Symbiosis' = Cooperation = 'Working together for benefit, one and the other!
I prefer Religion/Belief to 'Crack' or Meth!

Roy J Stewart,
Phoenix AZ

Ionian
not rated yet Aug 22, 2011
Maybe the cause and effect are backwards from what the article implies.

Maybe the educated and employed feel "blessed" and so they continue to invest in church since it seems to be paying off for them.

Maybe the poor and unemployed already feel abandoned by God and their church, and that going to church simply does not pay off, so they stop going.

Prosperity preachers say that people get what they deserve. They say that blessings come from God, and that if you're not getting any that something is wrong with your relationship with God. That's a huge insult to anyone who is having a hard time finding work, so it's no wonder they are going to church less often.
Cannibal Shogun
not rated yet Aug 22, 2011
"we also think that the existence of a large group of less educated Americans that is increasingly disconnected from religious institutions is troubling for our society,"

Sorry but this is utter crap. Less religion is good for everyone. People can find organizations that provide all the benefits of religion without forcing them to follow some bastardized ancient philosophies that have been used for most of human history to manipulate, control and subjugate the masses.