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Religious Nonaffiliation and Schooling: The Educational Trajectories of Three Types of Religious “Nones”

Religion, Work and Inequality

ISBN: 978-1-78052-346-0, eISBN: 978-1-78052-347-7

Publication date: 23 April 2012


Purpose – Previous studies have found that, for those born after 1960, individuals raised with no religious affiliation were less likely than any other religious group to complete a college degree. This finding is surprising in light of the increasing educational attainment of the American public, as well as the finding that declining religious belief is often presumed to accompany higher education. In this chapter, we explore the changing relationship between religious nonaffiliation and educational attainment for Americans over the past three decades.

Methodology – In order to disentangle the mechanisms behind this relationship, we consider the heterogeneity of nonaffiliates and examine educational attainment for three types of religious “nones.” Using the General Social Survey (1972–2008), we look for cohort differences in attaining a bachelor's degree among persistent nones, disaffiliates, and adult affiliates.

Findings – While being raised in no religious tradition was once predictive of higher odds of completing a college degree, the positive relationship between being raised a religious none and college completion has reversed itself in the past 30 years. Instead, for individuals born after 1960, being raised in no religious tradition is actually associated with lower odds of completing a 4-year college degree relative to adults who were raised in any religious tradition and continue to claim a religious identity in adulthood. This effect is particularly pronounced for adults who maintain no religious identity throughout the life course.

Social implications – We propose some explanations for this finding, with a particular emphasis on the potential significance of religious social networks in adolescence.



Massengill, R.P. and MacGregor, C.A. (2012), "Religious Nonaffiliation and Schooling: The Educational Trajectories of Three Types of Religious “Nones”", Keister, L.A., Mccarthy, J. and Finke, R. (Ed.) Religion, Work and Inequality (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 23), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 183-203.



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