Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Change in Religion in the US

Here is a news release from the American Sociological Association highlighting a new trend where the less educated are leaving religion faster than the better educated:
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 religiosity is less divided by education and income. Most whites who report a religious affiliation are Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Mormons, or Jews.

Relying on nationally representative data from the General Social Survey and the National Survey 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.
This is contrary to the impression you get from the media where televangelists are still going strong.

If this trend holds, this should be positive for the society because it is the manipulation of the religious evangelicals by the Republican party which has enabled to get wave of greed, fraud, and crime that has brought the economy down.

I'm upbeat about this direction, but the researcher Wilcox is more negative:
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.
I can see the viewpoint, but I also believe that religion, especially frenzied popular religion like evangelicalism harbours a large number of predatory "preachers" who suck money out of their poor congregations. This withdrawal from religion may be a sign that people have caught on that they have been robbed by the religious leaders. This may be a sign that they are taking more responsibility for their own lives.

But I can see Wilcox's viewpoint:
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.
Time will tell if this is a postive change or a negative one.

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