The old wisdom: The more educated you are, the less likely
you will be religious. But a new study says education doesn’t drive people away
from God — it gives them a more liberal attitude about who’s going to heaven.
Each year of education ups the odds by 15 percent that people will say there’s “truth
in more than one religion,” says University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor
Philip Schwadel in an article for the Review of Religious Research. Schwadel,
an associate professor of sociology, looked at 1,800 U.S.
adults’ reported religious beliefs and practices and their education.
People change their perspective because, as people move through high school and
college, they acquire an ever-wider range of friendships, including people with
different beliefs than their own, Schwadel says. “People don’t want to say
their friends are going to hell,” he says.
For each additional year of education beyond seventh grade, Americans are:
- 15 percent more likely to have attended religious services in the past week.
14 percent more likely to say they believe in a “higher power” than in a
personal God. “More than 90 percent believe in some sort of divinity,”
- 13 percent more likely to switch to a mainline Protestant denomination that is
“less strict, less likely to impose rules of behavior on your daily life” than
their childhood religion.
- 13 percent less likely to say the Bible is the “actual word of God.” The
educated, like most folks in general, tend to say the Bible is the “inspired
word” of God, Schwadel says.
Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist blogger at Patheos.com, is skeptical, saying
this “raises an eyebrow at everything I’ve always heard that the more educated
you are, the less religious you are. But it must depend on how you define
Schwadel’s findings dovetail with findings by Barry Kosmin of Trinity College
in Hartford, Conn., a co-author of the American Religious Identification Survey
statistics on religious beliefs and the behavior of people with master’s
degrees, doctorates and professional
It turns out that on Sunday mornings, “the educated elite
look a lot like the rest of America,”
Kosmin says — just as likely to believe in a personal God or higher power.