ARIS 2008 Report: Part IIIB - Education

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Aside from differences in religious profiles by race another major historical feature of American religion has been 
differences in terms of social class. A good measure of class in a meritocratic society is education, particularly 
the attainment of a college degree. The overall level of educational attainment has improved in U.S. society in 
recent decades so that in 2008 more than one-fourth of American adults age 25 and over are college graduates. 
As Table 11 shows nearly every religious tradition has made advances since 1990 with the exception of Muslims 
and NRMs. Nevertheless different religious traditions attract or perhaps produce different proportions of college 
graduates. Interestingly, aside from Mainline Christians, the domain of the old "WASP" elite, all the Christian 
groups have a smaller proportion of well-educated individuals than the Non-Christian traditions as of 2008.

Since 1990 the best educated groups, the Jews and those in Eastern Religions, have made advances and so 
continued to attract, retain or produce graduates. The Muslims and NRMs have lost some ground. In contrast 
the Pentecostals and Baptists have considerably improved their proportions of graduates though from a low base. 
The Mormons too have made considerable headway since 1990. Another significant finding is that the Nones 
are only slightly better educated than the average American. This may reflect the changing make up of the 
population of Nones, as a wider spectrum of people are choosing this option.

One caveat is required here. In terms of statistical probability it is much more likely for small religious groups to 
show educational homogeneity than for large ones to do so. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Catholic and 
Generic Christian traditions with tens of millions of adherents tend to mirror the overall national proportions of 
college graduates while groups with only two or three million adherents do not.

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ARIS 2008