Is Education The Enemy Of Religion?

A recent paper found that “that one additional year of schooling in Europe was associated with a 10 percent reduction in the propensity to attend religious services once a week or more.” But the bigger picture is more complicated:

Globally, we’ve seen a massive rise in education, without a uniform change in religious beliefs. In 1970, only about 40 percent of children worldwide enrolled in secondary education; four decades later, the rate had climbed to 73 percent. In developing nations, the increases have been substantial: In sub-Saharan Africa, enrollment rates have grown from 13 percent to 41 percent. In Pakistan, the average adult has had five years of schooling, up from a little over one year in 1960, and in Nigeria the same numbers are 7.5 years, up from 2.4. (The average American adult has 13 years.) If Mocan and Pogorelova’s results held worldwide, this massive rise in education would suggest a cratering in global religious practice.

The available evidence tells a different story.

According to the latest wave of World Values Surveys, 24 out of 42 countries have seen an increasing proportion of people who say religion is important in life. Four have seen the percentage unchanged, and 14 countries have seen it decline. In the countries where it’s declining, the starting points are radically different. The U.S. dropped from 56 percent in the 1990s to 40 percent now, whereas in Iraq, the proportion has dropped to 85 percent, down from 94 percent in the late ’90s. Overall, though, the world is becoming more godly, at least according to this measure of religious adherence.

So what makes Europe different?

[M]aybe you need to go all the way through secondary school to come out a skeptic, and most emerging markets haven’t reached that point yet. A simpler explanation might be that most children in Africa and Asia aren’t learning potentially threatening theories like evolution at school.