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Many Less-Educated Whites Abandoning Religion

SUNDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Large numbers of less-educated white Americans are abandoning religion, a new study says.

Since the 1970s, religious service attendance has declined among all white Americans, but the rate of decline among those without college degrees has been more than twice that of college graduates, according to the researchers.

The study, which was to be presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in Las Vegas, focused on whites because religiosity among blacks and Hispanics is less affected by education and income, the researchers said.

They analyzed data from the General Social Survey and the National Survey of Family Growth to assess monthly religious service attendance among adults aged 25 to 44 in the 1970s and in the past decade.

The researchers found that 38 percent of the least-educated whites (who did not graduate high school) attended religious services in the 1970s, compared with 50 percent of moderately educated whites (who had a high school diploma but did not graduate from a four-year college) and 51 percent of educated whites (who at a minimum graduated from a four-year college).

In the past decade, 23 percent of the least-educated whites attended religious services monthly or more often, compared with 37 percent of moderately educated whites and 46 percent of college-educated whites, the researchers said.

"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," lead researcher W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, said in an ASA news release.

In the current economy, whites with the lowest levels of education are less likely to have stable jobs, to earn decent incomes, to be married with children, or to hold family-centered views. Therefore, it makes sense that they're not attracted to religious institutions that continue to promote conventional societal norms, Wilcox said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians discusses spirituality and health.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Sociological Association, news release, Aug. 21, 2011

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