Date of this Version
Published in Social Forces (2014), pp. 1–28; doi: 10.1093/sf/sou080
This article examines the changing association between higher education and reporting no religious affiliation in the United States. I argue that increases in higher education have led to a decline in the individual-level effect of college education on religious non-affiliation. Results from hierarchical age-period-cohort models using more than three and a half decades of repeated cross-sectional survey data demonstrate that the strong, positive effect of college education on reporti ti ng no religious affiliation declines precipitously across birth cohorts. Specifically, a bachelor’s degree has no effect on non-affiliation by the 1965–69 cohort, and a negative effect for the 1970s cohorts. Moreover, these across-cohort changes are strongly associated with aggregate growth in college education, and they vary considerably by religious origin. I conclude with a discussion of how the results relate to changes among the college-educated population, the religious deinstitutionalization of the non-college-educated, cultural diffusion across social statuses, and other cohort-appropriate social and cultural changes.