Less Educated, Less Religious?

According to polls cited by the CNN Belief Blog, church attendance is down among those in America who are less educated:

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.

[...]

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 who lack degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s.

Among college educated whites, the drop-off was less steep, with 46% regularly attending religious services in the 2000s, compared to 51% in the ’70s.

The rest of the article is basically hand-wringing. It’s probably too strong a reaction for a single survey, particularly since it’s only an issue with American whites, and not blacks or Latinos whose church attendance “is less divided by education and income.”

There’s also what I call “the Putnam effect.” In his book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam freaked out because people were no longer joining PTA groups. However, he ignored the fact that people were joining alternative groups with the same function. Basically, just because people aren’t going to church doesn’t mean they aren’t religious. Perhaps they’ve found another outlet.

But let’s assume that the common interpretation is true. It’s always been assumed that the less educated were far more likely to become part of a church. Further, in these tough economic times, it was assumed that many people would actually come to rely on their church communities more. So what’s happening here?

Whether or not the survey is depicting something real, the political right has picked up on it. Several pundits are milking it for all it’s worth. Consider Walter Russel Mead’s column titled – I’m not kidding – “Inequality Grows As Poor, Ignorant Atheists Swamp US” and David French comment at The Corner:

It is simply a fact that our social problems are increasingly connected to the depravity of the poor. If an American works hard, completes their education, gets married, and stays married, then they will rarely — very rarely — be poor. At the same time, poverty is the handmaiden of illegitimacy, divorce, ignorance, and addiction. As we have poured money into welfare, we’ve done nothing to address the behaviors that lead to poverty while doing all we can to make that poverty more comfortable and sustainable.

I can’t quite decided whether they think that lack of church attendance is the cause of poverty, or just something that makes poverty worse.

  • Zinn

    “As we have poured money into welfare, we’ve done nothing to address the behaviors that lead to poverty while doing all we can to make that poverty more comfortable and sustainable.”

    This is nonsesne. The average monthly payout in inflation adjusted dollars for federal welfare has been steadily falling since the late 70′s. Couple this with an economic regime that has led to stagnating or even declining wages for middle class workers and good jobs contantly being outsourced to cheaper labor offshore and it is no wonder we have intractable issues of poverty. The moralizing is just a political tool. Addiction is the handmaiden of sick society.

  • Transformed

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding the article. Correct me for ignorance, but don’t most American recieve a fairly uniformative education?

    Could the decline in religious affiliation be a reflection of our current educational system and how it leaves less and less room (generationally) for the necesity of a God?

    • Elemenope

      Correct me for ignorance, but don’t most American recieve a fairly uniformative education?

      Depends what you mean by that. It is, like most education, certainly fairly ineffective in a basic sense, in that the raw information taught is not retained. On those metrics, American students tend to perform marginally poorer than the rest of the western world. I can personally report, having attended a thoroughly average public high school, that the information itself tends to be plentiful if you can retain it. Contextualizing that information requires some guidance (which depends on teacher quality; good teachers don’t grow on trees anywhere), an innate ability to recall, and an endogenous desire to understand. I don’t see school quality, beyond a certain modest basement that the vast majority of American schools meet, affecting those three things overmuch.

      On the other hand, we have by far the best post-secondary education system in the world, and the vast majority of the students in it are Americans (even though there is a large foreign exchange student contingent in raw numbers, it is proportionally small to the total college population), so primary and secondary school can’t quite be the disaster it is normally made out to be.

      • Noelle

        I’m gonna have to back up el on this one. I attended ordinary public schools for most of my education and I learned everything I needed for college and more. I did go to private Lutheran school for the 3 years we were in Detroit and my parents were afraid of the public schools. The private school wasn’t any better than the previous public ones. When the world and media speak of the failing schools in some of our big cities, they are often missing the everyday successes going on in the smaller communities. I had 22 college credits before I started college, based on AP and other high school classes. It’s not as if I’m an exceptional case. I had a lot of super-smart nerdy company in high school. Might be worth mentioning that many of the brightest in this board are Americans educated in a supposing failed system.

        Oh, and I am nowhere near Jersey. If one speaks of beach here, it is expected to be on a great lake. I haven’t even heard a teenager mention the tv show around these parts. People do like their sports, regardless of education level.

        • gringa

          What does Jersey have to do with it?

          • Noelle

            See Nzo below. Got no idea what jersey shore has to do with anything

            • gringa

              Ahhh, ok. I was going to say that I grew up in NJ public schools and did ok for myself. However those people on Jersey Shore aren’t actually from NJ, so I can’t speak for their education at all …. :-P

    • Nzo

      Correct me for ignorance, but don’t most American recieve a fairly uniformative education?

      I pretty much have to agree, as I can only see the (pre-post-secondary) education system here as an institution designed to fail. Shitty teachers, making shitty wages, but with insane job security… instead of raising the educational bar to inspire excellence, we lower it so that every student gets a smiley-sticker, a pat on the head, and advancement to the next grade.

      From what I can tell, if you don’t live near a college, or hang out with people who are still advancing, or graduated, you can’t find someone to speak with about anything other than church, sports, and Jersey shore. I wish I was kidding about that.

      • thread_of_fire

        “From what I can tell, if you don’t live near a college, or hang out with people who are still advancing, or graduated, you can’t find someone to speak with about anything other than church, sports, and Jersey shore. I wish I was kidding about that.”

        this seems a possibility to me. I don’t like the sounds of it, but it does explain how some people seem to live in a different world.

        • gringa

          You forgot politics. I hate speaking about politics with people because no one really has the full story and although it’s fun to point out the fallacies in their arguments, it’s difficult to change their minds.

  • claidheamh mor

    It is simply a fact that our social problems are increasingly connected to the depravity of the poor.

    We have yet another idiot making (ASSuming) a causation-correlation fallacy.
    (“Feminism is causing the breakup of the family!” “Hilary Clinton is causing global warming!”)
    And another reason for the name-calling: He doesn’t even need for there to be a correlation.

  • Noelle

    Mebbe the folks with the HS-only education are working on weekends.

  • NoE

    Or working nights and sleeping days. The un or under educated tend to get the least desirable shifts and jobs.

    • Noelle

      Or are on a tight budget, and the idea of going somewhere that tries to guilt them out of 10% their paycheck every Sunday just isn’t that appealing.

      • gringa

        that’s what i was thinking.

  • TrickQuestion

    Isn’t the general cause of poverty…birth?
    Wouldn’t all the people bitching about how the poor are a drain on “the system” be all for birth control solutions, or would they still want to push abstinence only education?

    • http://ohmatron.wordpress.com/ Custador

      I watched a program about surrogacy on the Beeb and it reignited some feelings I had about an episode of the Ethics Committee on Radio 4 a while back about IVF (specifically dealing with a couple who couldn’t have kids and who would never have qualified as suitable adoptive parents, but who were given IVF which thankfully failed). It irks me that people think they’re somehow entitled to have a biological child, and that massive resources are spent bringing new humans into the world that would never have got here otherwise – To me, in a world where there are already far too many children who are desperately in need of good parents, it’s hugely unethical to spend £20,000 on producing another one. If you really want kids but your body or your partner’s body won’t allow you to have them – Adopt. Take a child that’s already here and do something really special – give it a home and parents and love.

      • kholdom0790

        Couldn’t agree more. While I respect the right to make that choice, it seems highly arrogant to me to want your own special cells replicated and ignore the plight of so many fully-formed lives.

  • WarbVIII

    Considering the rise of right wing xstian universities, and the popular mantra that god loves the rich,it’s not as surprising as it could be.

  • busterggi

    Why should the less educated got to church when there is 24/7 evangelism available on tv & radio?

    Kindly note that belief was not part of the study & i suspect the whole thing is to counter actual studies that correlate higher education levels with a lack of belief.

  • Transformed

    @ El… ok, fair enough. I can agree with you that our (American) educational system has failed (or at least regularly lends itself to failure) largely in part to several factors. However, with the exception of a few variations of the curriculum based on individual state legislature, can’t we agree that the basics are largely uninformative? Just based on information itself? Regardless of the failures within the system to how to TEACH the information; can’t we assume that the curriculum an elementary school may teach in Oregon is at least some what comparable to one in New York? By coming from that perspective I can see entirely how an individual’s opportunity for higher education isn’t based on the retention of previous educational levels. Especially in terms of mere information regurgitation.

    I know the American educational system needs some major revamping… But our level of education today, is almost entirely different than the level of education in the ’70′s. Just how the curriculum taught in the ’70′s is altogether different than the curriculum taught in, say, the ’40′s. And now our curriculum seems to evolve even within a year. However failed a system our American education is, with each evolution those very basics of information leave less and less and less invocation of the divine.

  • vasaroti

    Seems to me that the poor would be the first to notice that prayer doesn’t work.
    I haven’t noticed the poor being able to afford real depravity, so they settle for self-destructive behaviors like drugs and petty crimes. You have to be rich to afford real depravity like blood diamonds, wearing the skins of animals killed just for their pelts, destroying coastal wildlife habitat for a golf course, etc.

  • http://www.light-fire.net Devon

    Last I checked, you had to go to high school before college. It’s possible this only means that the high school and undergrad age group is less likely to attend church than the college graduates’ age group. It may have nothing to do with intelligence or education at all. In fact, I think that’s incredibly likely.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X