Religious Affiliation RISES with Education

Religious Affiliation RISES with Education November 25, 2022

The conventional wisdom assumes that education is a secularizing factor, so that the more education a person has, the less likely the person will be affiliated with a religion. But researchers have found the opposite.  Sort of.

Social scientist Ryan Burge, who has written a book about the Nones, has written a report for the Religious News Service entitled  Does education ‘cure’ people of faith? The data says no.

The largest demographic of the Nones–that is, those who have no religious affiliation–is people who did not graduate from high school, 32% of whom say they have no religion.  Among high school graduates, the percentage is 28%.  Among those with four years of college, the percentage is 24%.  Among those with a Masters Degree, the percentage drops to 20%.  The number goes up slightly for those who get a doctorate, reverting to the undergraduate level of 24%.

This is more evidence of what I have long been saying, that most of the unchurched are to be found not in the young professionals targeted by most church growth programs but in the working class and among the poor.  Have you ever seen books or evangelism material targeted to these folks?  And yet, ironically, they are easier to reach than the higher-status demographics that congregations seem the most concerned about.

This is confirmed by another facet of the research.  Of those whose education ended with high school or less, 56% believe in God “with no doubts,” with another 16% saying that they believe though doubt sometimes and 4% saying they believe
“sometimes.”  That comes to 76% of lower educated folks believing in God, with only 7% saying they are atheists.  (The other choices were “belief in a higher power” [11%], and “no way to tell” [6%].)

For college graduates, 42% are certain that there is a God, 16% believe with doubts, and 5% believe sometimes, for a total of 73%, with 8% atheists.

For those who have been to graduate school, 38% believe in God, with 17% believing with doubts, and 6% believing sometimes, for a total of 61%, with 10% atheists.

Thus, the demographic segment that is most likely to be unchurched is also the most likely to believe in God, indeed, to have a strong belief in God!  Whereas the college-educated demographic, while being more likely to be members of a church, have the weakest belief in God!

So it appears that religious belief does go down with education.  In this, the conventional wisdom is right.  But religious affiliation–that is, membership in a church or its equivalent–goes up with education.

Can it be that the secularization of society is not so much due to outside forces, but rather is due to the secularization of churches?



Illustration by JacobCardel, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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