[toggle]However, there is a more specific way to approach this problem. The above graph lumps the entire sample into six education categories with little regard for whether they obtained their high school diploma in 1968 to 2008. [/toggle]


[toggle]If secularization was a constantly accelerating process, we would expect to see younger people with graduate degrees unaffiliate at higher rates than their older counterparts with high levels of education. In order to test this, I broke the CCES 2018 sample into birth cohorts, which are created based on five year intervals. [/toggle]


[toggle]For instance, I placed everyone born between 1940 and 1944 into the same cohort. I then calculated the share of each educational level who had no religious affiliation for all fourteen birth cohorts in the sample. [/toggle]


[toggle]For this visualization, an upward sloping line would provide support for secularization, while a downward sloping line would indicate that secularization is not occurring. For the top row of cohorts, ranging from 1930 to 1949, there is some evidence of secularization, as those with more education are more likely to be unaffiliated. [/toggle]


[toggle]The second row, however, tells a different story: the lines are flat. This indicates there is no relationship between education and religious disaffiliation for those born between 1950 and 1969. The last six cohorts (those born between 1970 and 2000), show lines that consistently sloping downwards. The results of this graph indicate that, for those between the ages of 18 and 49, the more education one obtains the more likely they are to affiliate with a religious tradition. [/toggle]


[toggle]Taken together, the results from this sample tell a simple story: secularization is apparent for older generations of Americans, but for those born after 1950 there is no evidence that education leads to a decline in religious affiliation. [/toggle]


[toggle]So, why is this happening? The sociologist Philip Schwadel provides some insight in a paper he published in 2014. [/toggle]


[toggle]First, Schwadel notes that obtaining a higher education has become ubiquitous in modern American society. While only certain types of people would go on to college in previous years, a college education is an obtainable reality for people from all types of socio-economic, racial, and religious backgrounds. That may mute the self-selection effect that was occurring in prior generations. [/toggle]


[toggle]In addition, Schwadel argues that the well-educated are often early adopters of cultural change, which meant a move toward religious disaffiliation in the 1970s and 80s. Subsequently, those behaviors then trickle down to the rest of the population who began to disaffiliate from religion as well. Therefore, what may be occurring in the younger cohorts is the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction, with the highly educated portion of the population returning to religion. [/toggle]


[toggle]To use an oft-repeated phrase, “The kids are alright.” The perception that younger Americans are becoming more educated and therefore less religious finds no empirical support in this data. [/toggle]


[toggle]In fact, a bigger worry may be young adults who don’t pursue education beyond high school, as many of them are espousing the lowest levels of church attendance of any birth cohort. If one thinks that the path of the United States looks like Sweden, where 60% of adults have no religious affiliation, that seems unlikely. [/toggle]


[toggle]In addition, this should alleviate some of the concerns that parents have when they send their Christian teenagers off to a secular college or university. The evidence is clear: among their generation, more education leads to higher levels of church attendance and a lower likelihood of becoming religiously disaffiliated. There is hope for religion in America, yet. [/toggle]






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