November 4, 2016

The most and least educated U.S. religious groups

Attainment of a four-year college degree in the United States, often regarded as a key asset for economic success, varies by race and gender. But the share of people completing a college education also differs by religion, with members of some faith groups much more educated, on average, than others.

By far, Hindus and Unitarian Universalists have among the largest share of those with a college degree – 77% and 67% respectively. Roughly six-in-ten Jews (59%) have college degrees, as do similar shares in both the Anglican church (59%) and the Episcopal Church (56%).

These groups are among the top of a list of 30 U.S. religious groups ranked by educational attainment based on data from our 2014 Religious Landscape Study

Given the strong correlation between educational attainment and economic success, it is not surprising that Jews and Hindus, on average, have high household incomes, with four-in-ten Jews (44%) and roughly a third of Hindus (36%) living in households with annual incomes of at least $100,000, according to the 2014 study.

Other religious groups also have a higher percentage of college graduates than the full sample of more than 35,000 U.S. adults surveyed in the 2014 Religious Landscape Study, among whom 27% completed university. They include Buddhists and members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – both at 47% – as well as Orthodox Christians (40%), Muslims (39%) and Mormons (33%).

Since Catholics make up one-in-five adults, it is not surprising that their share of members with a college degree (26%) roughly mirrors that of the general public.

One-in-five members of historically black Protestant denominations – the National Baptist Convention (19%) and the African Methodist Episcopal Church (21%) – have a college degree, as do members of the Southern Baptist Convention (19%).

Our study also looked at educational attainment in three categories of religiously unaffiliated people. About four-in-ten atheists (43%) and agnostics (42%) have earned college degrees, as have nearly a quarter (24%) of those who say their religion is “nothing in particular.”

Topics: College, Education, Income, Religious Affiliation

  1. is a senior writer/ editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

35 Comments

  1. Anonymous3 weeks ago

    Additional study on “why” will really help. My wife is a more religious Hindu than me. I teach my kids some of the good practices of way of life as captured by some of the Hinduism’s great books like Gita, Ramayan etc . I don’t force them to learn complex slokas or religious hymns. I am of the opinion that modern day education is an evolution of traditional religious texts. I would rather have my kid be a scientist than a religious priest(My ancestors profession)..

  2. Anonymous3 weeks ago

    I often see some of these analyses and titillating exercises in self prophecy.

    In US, we are all equalized by one vote apiece, so what difference does it make if one holds a college degree and vote one way and someone without college vote another?

    What if ones holds a college, identifies with no religion but still a registered voter, how is their voting pattern captured? Are they aberration?

    US America is duped and seriously doped with these analyses such that at the end, the conclusions defied expert opinions. Human behavior is not scientific such that one can predict how a group behaves with certainty. Doing so is height of fallacy.

    For example, in US does having college degree guarantee one will get ahead in life? If that is the case, more African-Americans will be earning more than Jews and Hindus. There are roughly 43m African-Americans to about 8m Jews. If as the analysis indicates 59% Jews or 4.72m have college degree. Using about 22% or 9.46m, African-Americans having college degree – how come the Jews economic power and influence seems higher?

    It means equal opportunity in education measured by attainment of degree/s, does not mean equal outcome. The disparity in the outcome, ought to be narrow, But we know that is not the case. The question then is – why?

    Like I noted in the opening, this type of study is titillating but does not tell nearly half the truth. There are more to life and people ways than mere crunching of numbers tend to portray.

  3. Anonymous3 weeks ago

    Hindus in the US are usually high income immigrants. In India there are masses of illiterate and undereducated hindus.

  4. Peter Aremone4 weeks ago

    Not surprised at Hindus & Jews being on top. Hindus simply make the best immigrant group in the West. Jews are brilliant as usual. Anglican lead is not surprising either, shouldn’t Episcopalians be merged with Anglicans?

    1. Anonymous3 weeks ago

      Anglicans and Episcopalians are both part of the worldwide Anglican Communion but they have split in the U.S.

  5. Anonymous4 weeks ago

    Are Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ both grouped as merely “Churches of Christ?” They’re both offshoots of the same pre Civil War religious movement, but both groups are large enough to merit their own group.

    Anyway, I’m Church of Christ and can attest that 18 percent is an incredibly-low percentage of bachelors degree recipients. In every congregation with which I’ve been involved, it’s easily over 50%.

  6. Anonymous4 weeks ago

    What about pentecostals?

  7. Anonymous4 weeks ago

    Somewhat hard to interpret when the absolute size of these groups in the US is so disparate — I’d imagine the number of “Catholics” in the US exceeds that of the number of “Hindus” by at least an order of magnitude, for instance.

    A minor point, but what distinction is being made between “Anglican” and “Episcopal Church”? My understanding was that the Episcopal Church was simply the US branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, meaning that, in US terms, these are just different names for the same group.

    1. Anonymous4 weeks ago

      You said it is hard to interpret the information. Maybe I can help. Yes, there are certainly more Catholics in the United States than Hindus. The numbers simply reflect the levels of education reached by those who belong to each religion. For instance, if 50 out of every 100 Catholics has a college degree, then half the Catholics have a degree. So if there are 1000 Catholics, 500 of them have a degree. If 50% of all Hindus in the US. have degrees, half of all Hindus have degrees. Even if there are only 10 Hindus, it would mean that 5 of them have degrees. I hope that helps but it can still be confusing trying to understand it from someone’s written description. Cheers!

      1. Dennis Finn4 weeks ago

        I think he intended to say that the percentage can be misleading. If there are 10 times more Catholics then Hindus, and the study contacted 10 times more Catholics then Hindus the catholic population contacted can better absorb any outliers and there for be more accurate.

        5,000 Catholics, 1,000 contacted means less of a chance all those contacted went to college (and those not contacted didn’t).

        500 Hindus, 5 contacted would increase the chance that the 5 contacted were outliers.

        It’s a problem of deviation seen in small scale studies all the time, the smaller the studied group, the more likely you are to randomly choose only outliers in either direction.

    2. Anonymous4 weeks ago

      There are Anglicans who are not members of the Episcopal Church. That would include the Anglican Church in N. America, aso well as the Anglican continuing churches (the APA, ACA, ACCORDING, DEC, etc.).

  8. Jerry W Travelstead Jr4 weeks ago

    Atheism is not a religious group.

    1. Isaac Mathews4 weeks ago

      Literally came here to say that

    2. Anonymous4 weeks ago

      Well no, but they are a relevant group. Would you rather have left them out?

    3. Anonymous4 weeks ago

      Atheisem is also religion, they believe that everything is created from nothing,.. jap super religion..lol..

      1. Anonymous4 weeks ago

        Incorrect. Atheists reject God claims on bad evidence. That indicates neither a belief nor system of belief. Such skepticism has nothing to do with cosmic or human origin, except to the extent it comes up in discussion typically regarding the usefulness of evidence.

    4. Anonymous4 weeks ago

      not believe in a God is a believe too, what means it´s a religion

    5. Anonymous4 weeks ago

      “Our study also looked at educational attainment in three categories of religiously unaffiliated people.”

  9. Anonymous4 weeks ago

    It would be really great to find out what degrees are most prominent among different groups: for example, science/technology/engineering/math, humanities, and professional degrees (law/medicine/business, etc). Are you or are you considering undertaking such a study?

  10. Anonymous4 weeks ago

    About half of these “religions” are actually one religion, Christian. So, why is the Christian religion separated into their denominations. They are all still christian and should be lumped into one category.

    1. Anonymous4 weeks ago

      Go to a number of different churches as have I. God is not the same in all churches, even if the same book is used.

      Don’t take my word for it. Check it out yourself if you dare. This will take at least a five year commitment. I spent over twenty five years.

      Churches have evolved during that time with evangelical the most, but the people by and large stayed similar.

    2. Anonymous4 weeks ago

      real christians are poeple who live the bible, most of so called “christian churches” are far away from bible

    3. Anonymous4 weeks ago

      That would be misleading. There are three distinctive branches of Christianity: Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox, and they have some different beliefs and practises.

    4. Anonymous4 weeks ago

      That would miss the point.

  11. Anonymous4 weeks ago

    Not very meaningful because the study has been conducted only in the US and most Hindus in the US are immigrants from India. And it’s mostly the educated and successful people in India who get to immigrate here. For the same reason the stat about Hindu Americans having the highest average salary is also meaningless.

  12. Anonymous4 weeks ago

    Hindus & Jews are more educated than other religious groups ‘ …..a thought provoking post…!!

    But what have made these two religious groups leaning towards Education…? Nothing has been mentioned in your Research outcome…??
    R they thinking that the Education is the only means for them to Survive ?
    Hindus n Jews are lacking enough financial supports from the family members to start their own business…??
    Hence gaining education

    1. Anonymous4 weeks ago

      I don’t know about Hinduism, but education and knowledge is key in the Jewish lifestyle, and much of Judaism revolves around it. As such, it is understandable that Jews strive to obtain such higher knowledge.

    2. Anonymous4 weeks ago

      In India, parents believe that Education is the only tool for success for their children. Education is fundamental to Hinduism. Saraswathi is the Hindu Goddess of Knowledge and revered by every Hindu. Books are treated with utmost respect by every Hindu because Books represent Knowledge and therefore Goddess Saraswathi.

  13. Anonymous1 month ago

    The methodological approach you used here seems weak… Also, making it difficult to interpret your statistics in a meaningful way. I read the article due to the interesting nature of the title, however.

  14. Anonymous1 month ago

    Where do the Quakers – Society of Friends fall in this?

    1. Anonymous4 weeks ago

      Very liberal. Very well educated.

  15. Anonymous1 month ago

    What is the sample size of the data set and how do we know this is representative of the US population?

    Very surprised to say the least, but thanks for sharing nevertheless.

    1. Bruce Drake4 weeks ago

      This is from our Religious Landscape Study based on a nationally representative sample of 35,071 adults interviewed by telephone, on both cellphones and landlines. pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas…

  16. Rich Bolden1 month ago

    What about Quakers, Society of friends. Wiki lists their adult numbers as 375,000 About 0.2% of USA adults. I could easily see them being above Hindus

  17. Anonymous1 month ago

    Were people asked their affiliation when they were in college or what it currently is and then their amount of education attained? How do you count a person (like me) who started college as a Catholic but completed my degree as an agnostic?