The Independent Effect of Education on Christianity

There are lots of studies on the link between education and religion. Mainly they find a low-magnitude negative correlation between the level of education and religiousness. More interesting studies uncover a more complicated picture, however:

  1. More educated folks are more often church members and more likely to have attended church in the past week.
    1. Source
    2. Importance: Perhaps nominal religion is more acceptable among the uneducated.
  2. More educated folks tend to disrespect organized religion but respect the clergy.
    1. Source
    2. Perhaps the educated have a beef with organized religion rather than Christian ethics.
  3. Converts to atheism come disproportionately from those with a Bachelor’s degree or less education. Converts to theism come disproportionately from those with a Master’s or higher.
    1. Source
    2. Importance: Perhaps the correlation between education and religiousness is non-linear and marginally decreasing such that the most educated folks tend to convert to Christianity.
  4. Few studies on religion and education consider quality of education alongside the level thereof. Those educated in the particular field of economics, however, have starkly different political views compared to those educated in other fields. In particular, PhDs in many other fields are markedly more progressive. More than two-thirds of American atheists associate with the Democratic party.
    1. Source
    2. Importance: There is a hypothesis that atheists will tend to be less educated in economics. More generally, the hypothesis is that the kind of education explains some of the variance. A second hypothesis is that the level of education is non-linear and even backward-bending with respect to the propensity to convert to Christianity.
  5. Few studies on religiousness consider the unique question on Christianity. If Christianity is true and Islam is false, for example, we would not expect more education to lead to a general effect. Instead, we would expect Muslims to leave their faith at a faster rate. Even in Christianity the various denominations may matter. For example, much of the American data shows Catholics becoming atheists, while Evangelicals are largely unaffected. This may make sense if Roman Catholic teaching is less intellectually credible.
  6. Wealthier folks tend to be more frequently born into atheist households, and they are also more able to pay for education. So perhaps wealth is causal in the link between some education and atheism, rather than atheism causal in the obtainment of wealth. Indeed, psychologist Nigel Barber identifies wealth as directly leading to IQ gains due to things like nutrition, in contrast to others who superficially interpret the lower IQ of the religious as a sign that religion is for morons.
    1. Source
    2. Importance:
      1. Changes in the level of wealth and income, including inter-generational changes, are likely to be more insightful than the level of wealth.
      2. There’s a great irony in which the Bible predicts the wealth-atheism link in Matthew 19:24, but the Bible speaks highly of knowledge and wisdom. Indeed, Christians may intentionally withhold from becoming fabulously rich, preferring a sufficiency or threshold income approach. This would move the income mean in favor of atheism, and may or may not have a similar effect on formal education.

Given this more complicated picture, it becomes interesting to try to identify the independent effect of education, in terms of level and by quality, corrected for factors like income, on:

  1. Frequency of Christian self-identification
  2. Propensity to convert to Christianity
  3. Propensity to “act Christian” with or without self-identification as a Christian
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