Thursday, September 30, 2010

Like the rest of the planet, I blogged earlier this week about the major Pew study on religious knowledge.  I'm filling in the gaps over the next couple of days, working my way through a rather long pdf to get to the news lede -- it isn't so much your religious affiliation, it's your education that matters.

On page 37, we discover:
The survey results are clear: People with higher levels of education tend to be more knowledgeable about religion.
Which makes perfectly good sense.  Education tends to drive most tests of knowledge, from politics to science to health.  Having taken a specific college-level religion course also leads to greater knowledge, at least on the items asked here -- which, by the way, strike me as both comprehensive and fair when it comes to measuring something as difficult as "knowledge" of religion.

There are some fascinating demographic breakdowns deep in the study, though few of them truly surprising.  Indeed, they look a lot like the results you'd get studying political knowledge.  For those who care about such things, Republicans outscored Democrats on religious knowledge, but self-described conservatives and liberals were a statistical tie.  Go figure.

At the end, the fine folks at Pew crank the data through a regression analysis to see what really matters when it comes to what people know about religion.  The results? 
  • Education matters.  It dominates the model.
  • But religious affiliation still explains some of the variance, which is a fancy way of saying even if you control for education, atheists/agnostics, Mormons, and Jews still outperform everyone else.
  • Controlling for all this, having a high religious commitment also adds a bit in performance.
So what can we say?  Well, for one, I can say that in six months I'll be downloading these data and playing with them like a kid at Christmas.  Unfortunately there aren't a lot of other variables to work with here, and no serious media variables.  Too bad.


bethany said...

I was also surprised to see a category for "atheist/agnostic" separate from one for "nothing in particular." I think this relates the the finding about belief intensity. Is that a usual breakdown of religious affilliation? I don't recall seeing "nothing in particular" as an option before.

Hollander said...

Here's the exact question:

What is your present religion, if any? Are you Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon,Orthodox such as Greek or Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, something else, or nothing in particular?

I agree "nothing in particular" sounds odd, but I suppose they felt they needed some category for undecided or indifferent beyond the atheist/agnostic response alternative.

Often you don't offer such an alternative and just code it as such if people give some shrug of an answer, like "I don't go" or "I don't care" or something like that, collapsing everything into a category.

Here they offered that category and by doing so as the last thing someone hears, I suspect that inflated the number of folks who said "nothing in particular."