Study: College Education Does Not Drive People from Religion


For decades, it was assumed that college education is responsible for the declining rate of religious affiliation in the United States. However, a recent study by sociologist Philip Schwadel suggests that that assumption is far from the truth.

According to Schwadel, who works with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, college-educated people who were born after 1960 are as likely to disassociate with religion as those who have not pursued a college degree. The study of 38,251 people also revealed that those who were born in the 70s and 80s and attended college are likely to associate with a particular religion, compared to their less-educated counterparts. If nothing else, Schwadel’s latest study has definitely reversed the trends of education and secularization.

“This study suggests that, at least at an individual level of analysis, the highly educated are not the ones who are driving this change. If anything, the growth of the unaffiliated over the last couple of decades is disproportionately among the less educated.... For younger generations, it’s the least-educated Americans who are most likely to disaffiliate from religion or say they have no religious affiliation,” said Schwadel.

Several sociological studies have found that religious affiliation in America has been on a steady decline, especially when one takes into consideration the mainstream religions. One in five Americans does not associate him- or herself with any religion, which is an obvious rise from the numbers established ten years ago, when only 15 percent of Americans said the same.

Schwadel set out to identify who these people are and understand their reasons for leaving their respective houses of worship. Referring to an earlier study, he said at The American Sociological Conference in San Francisco earlier this month, “A lot of the theories and assumptions are the same.” The theories he referred to revolve around the incredible growth in college population and shifting social mores.

College education was once targeted at the elite and those who could pursue such degrees were far fewer in numbers.

“In the ‘70s, only 10 percent of the (U.S.) population graduated from college. For this generation, well over one-third of them will graduate with a postsecondary education degree,” he said.

Today, there are lesser hindrances and more openness among those opting for a college education. That is among the reasons the population of college students has changed over the years.

“At the same time there are greater opportunities to practice religion as a college student. If you went to college in the ‘60s ... there was a good chance that a lot of students may not have wanted to talk about religion. This has probably changed; with the growth of college education there has been a growth of groups on campus and an opportunity to maintain (religious) vitality. Religion is just a fact of life for a lot of college students. It is not compartmentalized as just Sunday morning (worship),” he said.

Schwadel also noted that a lot of people tend to confuse religious affiliation with religiosity and spirituality, which are not necessarily the same things. That is probably why religiosity seems to be on a rise in the United States despite religious association experiencing a steady decline. Schwadel believes that America offers its people a wide variety of religious options and almost everyone is likely to find a faith that best suits their values and beliefs.

“There is a niche for everyone. Including the highly educated,” Schwadel said in conclusion.

Photo Credit: University of Nebraska - Lincoln



Casper Rigsby

A person doesn't need a college education to know bullsh!t when they hear it. Add to that the fact that people don't need college in order to be educated and informed thanks to the internet, it only follows that people are able to come to that conclusion without any real outside persuasion. The fact is people are waking up to the fact that god isn't anywhere to be found. If one exists it's left us to our own devices which leaves little reason to worship that absentee parent any more.

Jacob Johansen

As more people learn to evaluate the validity of web content which they view: it's only a matter of time before they use those same skills in other aspects of their life too.

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