Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Social Science Research (2011) 40: 181-192. DOI: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2010.09.006.


Copyright 2011, Elsevier. Used by permission.


Despite the theoretical emphasis on religious decline in modern societies, sociologists remain divided over trends in religious activity and belief that support or refute claims of religious decline. Much of this disagreement stems from the inability to distinguish between period and cohort effects when analyzing repeated cross-sectional survey data. I use the intrinsic estimator, a recently developed method of simultaneously estimating age, period, and cohort effects, to examine changes in Americans’ religious service attendance, prayer, belief in the afterlife, and biblical literalism. Results show that regular service attendance declines, predominantly across cohorts. There are also period-and cohort-based declines in biblical literalism and a cohort-based decline in prayer. Belief in the afterlife is relatively stable across periods and cohorts. These results provide mixed support for theories of religious decline, and they demonstrate the importance of differentiating between period and cohort effects on social change.

Included in

Sociology Commons