It’s a widely accepted fact that going to college has a negative effect on a person’s chances of remaining religiously inclined. And for sure, that used to be absolutely true. By looking at recent trends and statistics, however, researchers from the University of Nebraska say, “Not so fast.”
It appears that the trend is over. By and large, going to college no longer raises a person’s likelihood of disaffiliating from their religious views and practices. In fact, for those born after 1970, going to college actually increases the chance that he or she will remain with their church.
So what gives?
It’s a widely accepted fact that higher levels of education has a negative effect on a person’s chances of remaining religiously inclined. And that remains true.
The difference, it appears, is in the education of the masses. Back in the early 1900s, the public education system isn’t nearly what it is today. More children were dropping out early to help with agrarian chores. More people lived in rural areas without much of a chance of having a decent teacher, let alone a decent school.
Today, people have access to—comparatively speaking—awesome educational opportunities. Even if they live out in the middle of nowhere, they probably go to a decent public school and at least have access to the entire world’s worth of knowledge via the internet.
So, Philip Schwadel argues, the rising of the educational tide sinks all religious ships. Since people are already more likely to have a decent education and drop their religious views, going to college for even more education doesn’t have the same religious impact that it did 50 years ago.
Plus, Schwadel argues that there are many more opportunities to join religious groups in today’s colleges than there used to be.
“College education has grown so much that it’s also possible that who goes to college has changed and led to some of the changes we see in the study,” he said. “There are a lot more opportunities to maintain your religiosity while you’re in college. Unless something drastic happens to change this relationship again, I would expect in 50 years, the college-educated would be no more likely, and potentially less likely, to claim no affiliation than the non-college educated.”
And in case you’re wondering, no, most of the respondents did not go to Liberty or any actual institutions of higher education in the south. The data comes from the General Social Survey, which takes place biannually across the entire nation at random.
The study, “Birth Cohort Changes in the Association Between College Education and Religious Non-Affiliation,” was published in the journal Social Forces by Schwadel and Schwadel alone.