Does well-educated mean less religious?

I have read that the more educated you are the less likely you are to be religious.

Do you think that’s true?

I don’t consider myself well-educated. I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder as a young adult and dropped out of college four times. However, I really love school and I’m a very persistent (and sometimes stubborn) person, so I kept going back. Finally, in my thirties, I graduated from a local community college with an associate’s degree in commercial art. But I am itching to go back. I would love to get a four-year degree and maybe even go further. As I said, I really love school and there’s no doubt in my mind I could do it.

That went a little off-topic, but that’s my story. Am I the exception? I have been a pretty passionate atheist for most of my adult life.

I posted an article about this on Facebook a couple of years ago and it really pissed some people off. Apparently, there are some pretty well-educated religious people out there, too — even among my friends and family.

I think most people would agree that college is more than an education; it’s also a life experience. Being from a rural area, a lot of the diversity that surrounded me in college was new. Maybe it’s also that part that influences a student’s feelings about religion.

If you google this topic, a lot of articles and studies pop up supporting that the more educated you are, the less likely you are to be religious, but here’s an interesting article that states Christians maybe be the exception.

How do you guys feel? What do you think plays more into this — the college experience or the education?



  1. billseymour says

    I, too, am not highly educated. My earlier vocation was as a wires-and-pliers guy, and my highest academic credential is an associate degree in electronics from a proprietary tech. school (a good one, not a rip-off).

    I’m totally self-taught as a computer programmer, and as is often the case with autodidacts, my knowledge reflects my interests more than my needs. 😎

    So what does my education have to do with religion…hmmm…in my case it doesn’t seem to be related at all. I just gradually moved away from thinking that anything supernatural makes any sense at all.

  2. says

    It’s my understanding that there is indeed a negative statistical correlation between your level of education and how religious you are. Am unsure whether this correlation indicates causality, and if it does, am unsure which way the arrow of causality points.

  3. Bruce says

    There is a slight correlation, so being an atheist with less formal education is slightly less common, but not at all unusual.
    Atheism may correlate better with independence of thought, but how does one assess this in a mass survey? Can you just ask everyone? I don’t think that’s a good survey method.
    Studies showed differences in opinion during the Vietnam War that changed with education. It showed that more education went with more support for US involvement, but it’s peak was a four year degree. Those who had gotten a further degree such as a PhD opposed our war actions.
    The analysis suggests that the college experience also teaches conformity and group-think. But PhD level people were able to think for themselves and reject the government happy talk, just as were high-school dropouts who didn’t think they should always obey either. So independence of mind was the real issue, not fact-loading.
    And of course, this was a rough correlation, so every opinion was found at every level of education. With millions of exceptions, being one is not surprising.

  4. says

    Being exposed to radical ideas in places of education may be a bigger influence than the actual education by itself. Conservative institutions work actively to get rid of radical thinkers to stop them “polluting” young minds.

  5. brucegee1962 says

    I teach English at a community college. I tell my students that part of my job as a college teacher is to get them to question their beliefs and assumptions. If they end up keeping them, that’s fine — they’ll be all the stronger for being questioned.

    Many people, though, are only exposed in their lives to people who think the same way that they do. If a liberal education does anything at all, it ought to expose you to people who think differently. That should get you in the habit of questioning your assumptions, which tends to be a death knell for religion — even if none of your teachers even bring the subject up.

  6. says

    If you haven’t already seen it, the 1989 film “Dead Poets Society” deals with the way conservative schools stamp out radical thought.

  7. Rhe-bel says

    Yes, more educated = more likely to be atheist IF education is in science field, otherwise, no. I know too many educated people in other areas that are hyper religious

  8. Ay-nony-nony says

    I don’t know that I’d comment on 50-year-old data (the Viet Nam war) and cite people who got out of fighting *by going to college*.

    My thought echoes BruceGee and others’: that seeking out higher education and being exposed to other thought is either a mind-opener or a sign that the seeker is open-minded to begin with. As much as STEM students fight liberal arts classes, those classes (in foreign languages, philosophy, English, the social sciences) prompt great discussions with people from diverse upbringings and diverse opinions. There’s not much that can be debated on 2+2=4, but lots of valid opinions on “what is the best thing to do in THIS situation?”

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