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Are Working-Class Americans Abandoning Church?

"a retreat from religion"

There are theories that say the more educated an individual is, the less likely he or she is to embrace faith and to attend church regularly. But new research seems to indicate that working-class Americans who do not have a college degree are abandoning church faster than their more educated counterparts.

Now, it should be noted that overall church attendance rates have remained relatively steady over the past three or four decades. A 2010 study reaffirms this notion, though it indicates that there have been extreme changes in the makeup of congregations during this time. In considering these changes, one wonders how subgroups divided by race, income bracket and geography have changed in their allegiance to faith and their church attendance.

A new study released by the American Sociological Association has found that Americans who have only a high school diploma are dropping out of church faster than those who are more educated. According to LiveScience.com, in the 1970s, half of white Americans with a high school diploma attended church services at least monthly. Now, this proportion has dropped to just 37 percent.

Here's the irony: 46 percent of Highly-educated, white Americans attend church now. In the end, among non-educated Americans there has been a 13 to 15 percent drop in attendance, compared to only a five percent drop among the highly educated.

This seems to challenge the contention that the more educated you are, the more likely you are to abandon or simply not embrace religion. The Huffington Post has more:

According to the study, in the 1970s, 51 percent of college-educated whites attended religious services monthly or more, compared to 50 percent of moderately educated whites and 38 percent of the least educated whites. In the 2000s, 46 percent of college-educated whites attended on at least a monthly basis, compared to 37 percent of moderately educated whites and 23 percent of the least educated. The study defines the "least educated" as people without high school degrees.

Thus, there seems to be what the study's researcher W. Bradford Wilcox calls "a retreat from religion" in middle America. Of course, there may be some societal patterns impacting this trend. LiveScience.com writes:

The decline in church attendance among the non-college-educated matches a decline in stable work opportunities and in marriage among the working class, Wilcox said. All three factors interact with one another: Churchgoers are more likely to get married in the first place. Less stable employment might mean you don't make the leap into marriage, and the unmarried are less likely to attend church. Lack of a steady job might also cause people to shy away from a church community, Wilcox said.

While some will welcome this change (especially non-believers), Wilcox has some concerns. He believes that churches have traditionally served as support systems in times of need. Without this assistance, those individuals who make up middle America may face tough challenges without the safety nets they once enjoyed.

In the end, Americans who make a higher income attend church more frequently and those who have been unemployed any time during the past decade do so less frequently. There are other intriguing patterns as well. It seems the stereotypes regarding the factors that dictate church attendance are not as valid as previously assumed.

One last thing…
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