New research into church-going patterns suggests that Americans without college degrees are dropping out of religious practices two times faster than their more-educated counterparts.
"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.
Using decades of data from the General Social Survey and the National Survey of Family Growth, the study found that whites who have a high school degree but who did not graduate from a four-year college attended religious services in the 1970s at about the same rate as those who graduated from college.
"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.
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.
The study will be presented at the 106th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.