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Trend of College Grads Dropping Religion May Be Reversing, Study Suggests

gradsA new study by Dr. Philip Schwadel at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests that a shift in the relationship between college education and religious disaffiliation may be occurring. After analyzing 38,251 responses to the General Social Survey (GSS), a survey taken biennially by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, Schwadel noted that the correlation between being college educated and dropping out of a religion is slowing down and perhaps reversing, as reported by Phys.org

Previous research, which took into account only those born in the early part of the 20th century, had supported the widely-held notion that college education makes a person more likely to drop his or her religion. "If you were born in the 1910s, '20s or '30s, you are twice as likely as someone without a college education to say that you have no religious affiliation,” Schwadel said to Phys.org.

However, Schwadel’s analysis of those born in later decades reveals a different picture, showing that “that likelihood starts to decline for those people born in the late 1930s. By the 1960s, people born in that decade, there is no effect of education on religious disaffiliation."

Furthermore, Dr. Schwadel reportedly found that those individuals who were born in the 1970s and graduated college were slightly more likely to express a religious affiliation than those who did not. His research does not extend beyond those born in the ’70s.

Schwadel suggests several factors that could be responsible for this generational shift. He points to the increasing numbers of Americans who attend college, as well as the increase in religious resources on campuses. With this in mind, he projects that the shift is likely to continue. "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," he reportedly said.

Past research commissioned by The Cardinal Newman Society has found that many students at Catholic colleges identifying as Catholic are not sacramentally active and hold widely dissenting viewpoints from those of the Church. The percentages of Catholic students who hold dissident beliefs and who do not partake of the sacraments regularly actually increased at the Catholic colleges surveyed between freshman and senior year. Nine percent of those students left the faith during their four years.

And a report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate published a few years ago found that among students, after attending some Catholic colleges and universities, 31 percent increased in opposition to Catholic teaching on abortion; 39 percent abandoned Catholic teaching on marriage; and about one in eight abandoned the faith.

Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.

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