There’s a Growing Class Divide in Church Attendance

Daniel A. Cox December 15, 2022

Black and white image of well dressed white married couple with young boy and girl exit church in 1950s.

Religious participation is falling much more rapidly among those without a college degree

There are few institutions better positioned to transform individual lives and reshape communities than America’s churches and places of worship. In Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Robert Putnam documents the unique contributions made by places of worship. He writes:

Religious communities in America are important service providers for young people and the poor. Weekly churchgoers are two to three times more likely to volunteer to help the poor and young people than are nonchurchgoers, holding other things constant, and are much more likely to contribute financially to those causes. This religious edge appears for volunteering and giving through secular organizations, as well as for volunteering and giving through religious organizations. And the crucial ingredient seems not to be theology but rather involvement in a religious congregation.

Robert Putnam

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis

Yet increasingly, these benefits are not spread evenly across American society. As religious participation in the US continues to fall, some Americans are much more affected by its absence.

For much, if not most, of our history, religious congregations could be found in every corner of the United States, crossing barriers of class, race, and geography. As Putnam notes, “Religious engagement has traditionally been less class-biased than virtually any other sort of community or extracurricular activity.” But that’s no longer the case.

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