Christians in U.S. Are Less Educated Than Religious Minorities, Report Says

Religious minorities in the United States are far more likely to have attended college or a vocational school than members of the Christian majority, according to a review of census and survey data from 151 countries released on Tuesday that found wide gaps in education among followers of the world’s major religions.

The review was based on data from 2010 and was conducted by the Pew Research Center, which also found an education gap between men and women within religious groups. The researchers said the educational differences among the faiths were rooted in immigration policies that favor the educated, as well as in political, economic and historical factors.

There were 267 million Christians in the United States when the data was collected, but only 36 percent of them had a postsecondary education, including college or a vocational school, the researchers said. That made them the least-educated religious group in the country.

Jews in the United States were more than twice as likely as Christians to have a postsecondary degree, and Hindus were almost three times as likely, Pew said. Buddhists, Muslims and those who said they were religiously unaffiliated were also more likely to have a college degree than those who identified themselves as Christians.

Conrad Hackett, the lead researcher, said that Christians in the United States were among the best-educated Christians on the planet but that only 20 percent of Christians worldwide had a postsecondary degree. Those in North America had 12.7 years of schooling on average, higher than the average of 9.3 years among Christians globally.

“There are other countries where Christians are more likely to have a postsecondary degree, but the United States stacks up quite well in that regard,” Mr. Hackett said. “It’s just that these minority populations are really quite exceptional.”

That is largely a byproduct of immigration policies that favor highly educated and highly skilled applicants who have the financial means to set up life in a new country, he said. Eighty-seven percent of Hindus in the United States and 64 percent of Muslims were born overseas, compared with 14 percent of Christians, according to the report.

The opposite was true in most European countries, however, where Muslim communities have grown in recent years largely as a result of the arrival of refugees or low-skilled migrants. The largest gap was in Germany, where Muslims had, on average, 4.2 years less education than non-Muslims.

In some smaller European countries — including the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal and Slovakia — Muslims were more highly educated than non-Muslims, partly as a result of immigration systems that favored highly skilled applicants, the report said.

The study also found a connection between education levels and the number of people who described themselves as having no religious faith, Mr. Hackett said. In the United States, the religious tended to be less educated than the nonreligious, he said.

“The higher the level of education in a country, the larger the share of people with no religion tends to be,” he said. “Atheists and agnostics, or people with no religion in particular, have higher education levels than the religiously affiliated do in the U.S.”

Worldwide, Jews were the most highly educated major religious group, with an average of 13.4 years of schooling, while Hindus and Muslims were the least educated, with an average of 5.6 years each, according to the report.

The report said that Buddhists attended school for an average of 7.9 years, Christians for an average of 9.3 years, and the religiously unaffiliated for an average of 8.8 years.

The gender gap was widest among Hindus, with women receiving 2.7 years less education on average than men, and Muslims, whose women received 1.5 years less education. Buddhist women received 1.1 years less education than men, Christian women received 0.4 years less, and unaffiliated women received 0.8 years less. There was no educational gender gap among Jews, the researchers said.

Geography is a major factor in determining the level of educational attainment for all religious groups and helps explain the wide gap between Hindus and Jews, Pew said.

Most Jews live in two wealthy countries with generally high education levels: the United States and Israel. The vast majority of Hindus — 98 percent — live in three developing countries with weak education systems: India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Hindus living outside those three countries enjoy high rates of educational attainment; 87 percent of Hindus living in North America have college degrees.

Geography also explains differences in educational attainment within religious groups. For example, Muslims in the wealthy countries of Europe and North America have more years of schooling than Muslims in the Middle East, Asia or Africa, the report said.

The same holds true for Christians, the world’s most widely dispersed faith, with 2.2 billion adherents spread across every inhabited continent. Christians in Europe and North America had higher education levels than those in poorer countries, but the group also had high education levels as a whole. The study found that 67 percent of them had some secondary or postsecondary education in 2010, and 91 percent had received a formal education at some level.

The study includes data from 151 countries, which Pew said represented 95 percent of the 3.6 billion people in the world who were over the age of 25 in 2010. It did not measure the quality of people’s education, focusing instead on the number of years they were enrolled in school.

NewYork Times

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