Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

February 13, 2012

Working class vs. middle class white seculars

Filed under: Data Analysis,Religion,Religious — Razib Khan @ 9:27 am

Rod Dreher at The American Conservative, White Working-Class ‘Seculars’:

What’s interesting to think about is that these working-class non-churchgoers are probably not secular in the same way white intellectual elites are secular. I bet if you polled them, 999 out of 1,000 would say they believed in God and considered themselves to be Christians. It’s just that they don’t go to church. Where I live, during deer hunting season, to be a white male is to be seasonally “secular” in this way.

One way to answer this question is look at the GSS. I used the ATTEND (attend church that is) variable to ascertain secularity. Those who never attended church or did so less than once a year (in other words, some years they did attend, in other years they did not), are “secular.” Those who attend nearly weekly, or more, are “religious.” To assess class I simply divided the non-Hispanic white population into those who had a college degree or higher (middle class), and those who did not (working class).

Below are some responses to a selection of questions.



Secular Religious
No College College No College College
Atheist + agnostic 13 32 1 2
Know God Exists 39 17 89 79
Bible World of God 18 2 57 31
Bible Book of Fables 31 61 3 6
Religious fundamentalist 18 5 45 29
Humans from animals 68 91 18 40
Hell definitely exists 33 10 82 65

Qualitatively Dreher is roughly correct. Working class seculars are more ‘religious’ than middle class seculars. But they are still more secular than the religious middle class. This isn’t too surprising. In many Western societies there is a pattern where:

1) The church-goers tend to be more middle class (positive correlation between socioeconomic status and church-going)

2) The church-goers tend to be more religiously orthodox/conservative in their beliefs

3) The middle class tends to be less  religiously orthodox/conservative in their beliefs ( (negative correlation between socioeconomic status and orthodoxy/conservatism)

These results confuse because because many are assuming that if A is correlated with B, and B is correlated with C, then A must be correlate with C. This may be true, but it is not necessarily true. Ergo, you get this pattern where in the USA and many Western nations there is a positive correlation between institutional religious adherence and class, and a positive correlation between skepticism of orthodox religious beliefs and class. To be coarse about the main difference is that there are relatively few religious liberals within the working class, and proportionally fewer orthodox non-church-goers among the middle class. There is also a more punctilious adherence to institutions among middle class of all stripes.

For example, among the working class 73 percent of those who believe that the Bible is the word of God attend church at least nearly weekly. In contrast, the figure is 95 percent of the middle class of the same beliefs. The difference is greater for those who believe that the Bible is the inspired word, 42 vs. 72 percent. In other words, very few church-going mainline Protestants among the working class. Finally, it is notable that even among those who believe that the Bible is a book of fables 12 percent of middle class respondents went to church nearly weekly, vs. 8 percent of the working class!

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