Religiosity and education

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The relationship between the level of religiosity and the level of education has been studied since the second half of the 20th century.

The parameters of the two components diverse: the "level of religiosity" remains a concept which is difficult to differentiate scientifically, while the "level of education" is easier to compile, such as official data on this topic, because data on education is publicly accessible in many countries.

Different studies show contrasted conclusions regarding any link between the two concepts, depending on whether "religiosity" is measured by religious practices (attendance at places of worship, for example) or specific religious beliefs (belief in miracles, for example), with notable differences between nations. For example, an international study states that in some Western nations the intensity of beliefs decreases with education, but attendance and religious practice increases.[1] Other studies indicate that the religious have higher education than the non-religious.[2] Other studies find that the positive correlation with low or non religiosity and education has been reversed in the past few decades.[3][4]

In terms of university professors, one study concluded that in the US, the majority of professors, even at "elite" universities, were religious.[5]

Relationship between education and religiosity[edit]

Positive relationships[edit]

According to the General Social Survey, which has collected data on Americans since 1972, people who are educated often are more religious by various measures. For instance, as of 2010 sociologist Philip Schwadel found that with each additional year of education: the likelihood of attending religious services increased 15%, the likelihood of reading the Bible at least occasionally increased by 9%. The likelihood of switching to a mainline Protestant denomination increased by 13%.[6] On belief in God or a higher power, Schwadel said, “With more years of education, you aren’t relatively more likely to say, ‘I don’t believe in God...But you are relatively more likely to say, ‘I believe in a higher power.’”[6]

According to the Gallup's 2002 Index of Leading Religious Indicators for the US, the relationship between education and religiosity are complex. For instance, there are slight differences in belief in God and membership in a congregation: 88% of those with postgraduate degrees believe in God or a universal spirit, compared to 97% of those with a high school education or less; 70% of postgraduate degree holders say they are members of a congregation, compared to 64% of those with a high school education or less.[7]

Differences in educational attainment by religious groups in the U.S., 2001 ARIS data.[8]

Sociologist Bradley Wright reviewed results from the 2008 Pew US Religious Landscape Survey and noted that religious groups normally have significant levels of education compared to those who are non-religious. "The irony" he states "is that some of the religiously unaffiliated explain their rejection of religion in terms of superior learning, but several religious groups have much higher levels of education." He found that Hindus, Jews, Episcopalians,[9][10] Buddhists, and Orthodox Christians[11] have the highest levels of education, Catholics, Mormons, and Muslims are at about the national average, and Jehovah's Witnesses have by far the lowest education. Evangelicals are somewhat below the national average. The religiously unaffiliated are just slightly above average in levels of college education.[12] Sociological research by Patricia Snell and Christian Smith on many dimensions of general American youth have noted that older research on baby boomers showed correlations where higher education undermined religiosity, however, studies on today's youth have consistently shown that this has disappeared and now students in college are more likely religious than people who do not go to college.[4]

Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox said that people with less education have decreased in religiosity in America. Their views on family and work have been associated with this effect.[13] Research on secularity has noted that, in America, agnostics have significant levels of education, while atheists have relatively low levels of education.[14] Sociologist Christian Smith has done research on American evangelical and has found that on average, self-identified evangelicals have more years of education than fundamentalists, liberals, Roman Catholics, and the nonreligious, but slightly less than mainline Protestants.[2] He also found that evangelicals were the least likely to have high school education or less, the nonreligious were the most likely to have high school education or less, and higher proportions of evangelicals had studied at the graduate level than fundamentalists, liberals, and the nonreligious.[2]

Sociologist Philip Schwadel found that higher levels of education "positively affects religious participation, devotional activities, and emphasizing the importance of religion in daily life", education is not correlated with disbelief in God, and also correlate with greater tolerance for atheists' public opposition to religion and greater skepticism of "exclusivist religious viewpoints and biblical literalism".[15][16]

Cross-national sociological research by Norris and Inglehart notes a positive correlation between religious attendance among the more educated in the United States.[17]

Research in nonreligion in Britain has shown that the positive relationship between education and non-religion has been reversed with generations after 1955, in other words, that the nonreligious populations tend to have less education and that religious populations tend to have higher education, even though religious affiliation has decreased for both.[3] In 1980, a study was conducted in spain showed the more educated a person was, the more likely he or she was to be Catholic.[18]

Statistical analysis of Nobel prizes awarded between 1901 and 2000 reveals that 65.4% of Nobel laureates were Christians, over 20% were Jewish and 10.5% were atheists, agnostics, or freethinkers.[19] According to a study that was done by University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 1998, 60% of Nobel prize laureates in physics from 1901 to 1990 had a Christian background.[20] Since 1901-2013, 22% of all Nobel prizes have been awarded to Jews.[21]

According to a study that was done by University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 1998, 60% of Nobel prize laureates in physics from 1901 to 1990 had a Christian background.[22]

Negative relationships[edit]

In one analysis of World Values Survey data by Edward Glaeser and Bruce Sacerdote, noted that in 65 former socialist countries "there is a negative relationship between years of education and belief in God", with similar negative correlations for other religious beliefs while, in contrast, there were strong positive correlations in many developed countries such as England, France and the US.[1] They concluded that "these cross-country differences in the education-belief relationship can be explained by political factors (such as communism) which lead some countries to use state controlled education to discredit religion". The study also concludes that, in the United States and other developed nations, "education raises religious attendance at individual level," while "at the same time, there is a strong negative connection between attendance and education across religious groups within the U.S. and elsewhere." The authors suggest that "this puzzle is explained if education both increases the returns to social connection and reduces the extent of religious belief," causing more educated individuals to sort into less fervent denominations.[1]

In Ireland, the non-religious have a greater level of education than the general population.[23] A study noted positive correlations, among nonreligious Americans, between levels of education and not believing in a deity.[24] An EU survey finds a positive correlation between leaving school early and believing in a God.[25] Frank Sulloway of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Michael Shermer of California State University conducted a study which found in their polling sample of "credentialed" U.S. adults (12% had Ph.Ds and 62% were college graduates) 64% believed in God, and there was a correlation indicating that religious conviction diminished with education level.[26]

Mixed relationships[edit]

According to a 2015 global survey by Gallup International, the most religious had lower levels of education, however, religious people in general were a majority in all educational levels.[27]

Research done by Barry Kosmin indicates that Americans with post-graduate education have a similar religious distribution to the general population, with a higher "public religiosity" (i.e. membership in congregations and worship attendance), but slightly less "belief."[28]

Research done by Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar on college students looked at 3 worldviews: Religious, Secular, Spiritual and looked students from various levels from Freshmen to Post-graduates from various majors such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), Social and Behavioral Sciences, Arts and Humanities, and Undecided. The Religious were 31.8% of total sample (40% from STEM, 27% from Social and Behavioral Sciences, 27% from Arts and Humanities, and 5% from Undecided; the Secular were 28.2% of total sample (38% from STEM, 29% from Social and Behavioral Sciences, 30% from Arts and Humanities, and 3% from Undecided; the Spiritual were 32.4% of total sample(29% from STEM, 36% from Social and Behavioral Sciences, 31% from Arts and Humanities, and 4% from Undecided).[29]

Research by Neil Gross and Solon Simmons done on more than 1,400 professors from 20 disciplinary fields and religiosity found that the majority of professors, even at "elite" universities were religious believers. As a whole, university professors were less religious than the general US population, but it is hardly the case that the professorial landscape is characterized by an absence of religion. In the study, 9.8% were atheists, 13.1% were agnostic, 19.2% believe in a higher power, 4.3% believe in God some of the time, 16.6% had doubts but believed in God, 34.9% believed in God and had no doubts. At "elite" doctoral universities 36.5% were either atheists or agnostics and 20.4% believed in God without any doubts, furthermore the authors noted, "...religious skepticism represents a minority position, even among professors teaching at elite research universities." [5] They also found that professors at elite doctoral universities are much less religious than professors teaching in other kinds of institutions with more atheists and agnostics in numbers, however, both groups were still a minority there also.[30]

A survey conducted by Times Of India revealed that 22% of IIT-Bombay graduates do not believe in the existence of God, while another 30% do not know.[31]

In specific religious denominations[edit]


Studies of Mormons in the US show that Mormons with higher education attend church more regularly than less educated Mormons. Survey research indicated that 41 percent of Mormons with only elementary school education attend church regularly, compared to 76 percent of Mormon college graduates and 78 percent of Mormons who went beyond their college degrees to do graduate study attending church regularly.[32]

Evangelical groups[edit]

Edward Dutton studied findings which indicate that universities which are particularly transitional and prestigious tend to have (in contrast to less transitional universities), tightly differentiated and ‘fundamentalist’ student evangelical groups and higher levels of conversion while at university. He argued that Oxford University students are likely to be not just more intelligent in IQ terms than comparable students but more creative, more original in their thinking and more able to acquire knowledge- factors Dutton found made religious experience more likely in an individual.[33]

In 1975, Norman Poythress studied a sample of 234 US college undergraduates, grouping them into relatively homogeneous religious types based on the similarity of their religious beliefs, and compared their personality characteristics. He found that "Literally-oriented religious Believers did not differ significantly from Mythologically-oriented Believers on measures of intelligence, authoritarianism, or racial prejudice. Religious Believers as a group were found to be significantly less intelligent and more authoritarian than religious Skeptics." He used SAT as a measure of intelligence for this study.[34]

Christian fundamentalists[edit]

Contrary to the researchers' expectations, fundamentalist converts were not less educated people. However, a weak negative correlation between education and Christian fundamentalism was found by Burton et al. (1989),[35] a study comparing the religious beliefs and educational achievements of white, Protestant residents of Delaware County, Indiana.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Sacerdote, Bruce; Glaeser, Edward L. (January 2001). "Education and Religion" (PDF). National Bureau of Economic Research. p. 29. 
  2. ^ a b c Smith, Christian (1998). American Evangelicalism : Embattled and Thriving. University of Chicago Press. pp. 76–77. ISBN 0226764192. 
  3. ^ a b David Voas and Siobhan McAndrew (2014). "Three Puzzles of Non-religion in Britain". In Arweck, Elisabeth; Bullivant, Stephen; Lee, Lois. Secularity and Non-religion. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780415710442. 
  4. ^ a b Smith, Christian; Patricia Snell (2009). Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging adults. Oxford University Press. pp. 248–251. ISBN 9780195371796. However, something very interesting emerged when scholars took a second look at the question more recently. They found that the religiously undermining effect of higher education on recent generation of youth disappeared. Most of the older research was conducted on baby boomers for whom college did indeed corrode religious faith and practice. But many studies more recently have shown that conventional wisdom about baby boomers does not apply to today's youth. Higher education no longer seem to diminish religion in emerging adults." "In every case, emerging adults are slightly more religious than those who are not in college, although only the differences in overall religiousness and service attendance are statistically significant. In short, if anything, it is not attending college that is associated with lower levels of religious practice, though those differences are slight. 
  5. ^ a b Neil Gross and Solon Simmons (2009). The religiosity of American college and university professors. Sociology of Religion, 70(2):101-129. doi:10.1093/socrel/srp026 (EISSN 1759-8818, ISSN 1069-4404)
  6. ^ a b Kavanagh, Jim (August 11, 2011). "Study: More educated tend to be more religious, by some measures". 
  7. ^ Winseman, Albert L. (February 4, 2003). "Does More Educated Really = Less Religious?". Gallup Poll. 
  8. ^ Kosmin, Barry A.; Keysar, Ariela (2006). Religion in a Free Market Religious and Non-Religious Americans: Who, What, Why, Where. Ithaca, NY: Paramount Market Publ. ISBN 097669736X. 
  9. ^ US Religious Landscape Survey: Diverse and Dynamic (PDF), The Pew Forum, February 2008, p. 85, retrieved 2012-09-17 
  10. ^ Leonhardt, David (2011-05-13). "Faith, Education and Income". The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2011. 
  11. ^ Faith, Education and Income
  12. ^ Wright, Bradley R.E. (2010). Christians are hate-filled hypocrites-- and other lies you've been told : a sociologist shatters myths from the secular and christian media. Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House. pp. 87–88. ISBN 9780764207464. 
  13. ^ Fowler, Daniel. "Less-educated Americans turning their backs on religion". American Sociological Association. Eureka. 
  14. ^ Edited by Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar. "Secularism & Secularity: Contemporary International Perspectives". Hartford, CT: Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC), 2007. p. 36.
  15. ^ Schwadel, Philip (2011). "The Effects of Education on Americans’ Religious Practices, Beliefs, and Affiliations". Review of Religious Research 53 (2). doi:10.1007/s13644-011-0007-4. 
  16. ^ Jim Kavanagh (11 August 2011). "Study: More educated tend to be more religious, by some measures". CNN. “With more years of education, you aren’t relatively more likely to say, ‘I don’t believe in God,’” he said. “But you are relatively more likely to say, ‘I believe in a higher power.’” 
  17. ^ Norris, Pippa; Ronald Inglehart (2011). Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 267–268. ISBN 978-1-107-64837-1. The effects of income become insignificant, however, the impact of education actually reverses in the United States: it is the more educated who attend church most frequently. It therefore appears that the typical socioeconomic profile of churchgoing is indeed somewhat distinctive in the United States when compared with other wealthy countries. 
  18. ^ Scofield, James. "Spain: Religion". Library of Congress Country Studies. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  19. ^ Baruch A. Shalev, 100 Years of Nobel Prizes (2003), Atlantic Publishers & Distributors , p.57
  20. ^ Nobel prize winners in physics from 1901 to 1990
  21. ^ "Jewish Biographies: Nobel Prize Laureates". Jewish Virtual Library. 
  22. ^ Nobel prize winners in physics from 1901 to 1990
  23. ^ "Profile 7 – Religion, Ethnicity and Irish Travellers" (PDF). Census Statistics Office. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 
  24. ^ Zuckerman, Phil (2009). "Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions" (PDF). Sociology Compass 3 (6): 949–971. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9020.2009.00247.x. 
  25. ^ Social values, Science and Technology (PDF). Directorate General Research, European Union. 2005. pp. 7–11. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2011-04-30. Retrieved 2011-04-09. 
  26. ^ Shermer, Michael (1999). How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God. New York: William H Freeman. pp. 76–79. ISBN 0-7167-3561-X. 
  27. ^ "Losing our Religion? Two Thirds of People Still Claim to be Religious" (PDF). WIN/Gallup International. WIN/Gallup International. April 13, 2015. 
  28. ^ Kosmin, Barry. "Religion and the Intelligentsia: Post-graduate Educated Americans 1990-2008". 
  29. ^ Kosmin, Barry; Keysar, Ariela (September 2013). "Religious, Spiritual and Secular: The emergence of three distinct worldviews among American college students" (PDF). Trinity College. pp. 8–9. 
  30. ^ Gross, Neil; Solon Simmons (2007). "How Religious are America’s College and University Professors?" (PDF). SSRC. 
  31. ^ "Less than half of passing IIT batch believes in God’s existence". Times Of India. Retrieved 29 September 2015. 
  32. ^ Stan L. Albrecht, "The Consequential Dimension of Mormonx Religiosity" Latter-Day Saint Social Life, Social Research on the LDS Church and its Members, (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1998), 286.
  33. ^ Dutton, Edward. "Why does Jesus go to Oxford University? Conversion Experience, Creativity and Intelligence" (PDF). Journal for Interdisciplinary Research on Religion and Science,. Retrieved 16 March 2012. 
  34. ^ Poythress, Norman (1975). "Literal, Antiliteral, and Mythological Religious Orientations". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (No. 3 ed.) (Wiley-Blackwell) 14 (3): 271–284. doi:10.2307/1384909. ISSN 0021-8294. JSTOR 1384909. 
  35. ^ Ronald Burton; Stephen Johnson; Joseph Tamney, Education and Fundamentalism, Review of Religious Research (1989)[1]