Are Americans Telling a Major Lie About Their Religious Lives?

Are Americans lying about their church attendance? A new study found that many people tend to inflate religious participation.

In “I Know What You Did Last Sunday,” the Public Religion Research Institute specifically asked respondents about their church attendance, finding that many individuals inflated participation when fielding questions via telephone as opposed to taking a less personal online survey.

Catholics, white mainline Protestants and young adults are among the most likely to inflate their numbers when speaking with another person, the research firm reported.

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Consider that 36 percent of those sampled for the telephone survey reported attending religious services weekly or more, compared to only 31 percent in the online survey.

But the largest divide was among those who said that they rarely or never attend church. While this proportion was 30 percent in the telephone survey, it was much larger — 43 percent — in the online survey.

The below table shows the differences between results in the telephone and online studies and also breaks down the proportions among various Christian and secular groups:

Image source: Public Religion Research Institute
Image source: Public Religion Research Institute

The idea is that people might be more honest when answering on a computer rather than telling another person about their religious habits on the telephone. Read the study in its entirety here.

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