Friday, January 27, 2012

Sociological Data

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago has been keeping some of the best demographic statistics since 1972. This means that long-term studies with high quality data are now possible. The main instrument for gathering these numbers is the General Social Survey. With information for a forty-year span, sociological patterns begin to manifest themselves:

  • For every additional year of education an individual has, she or he is 15% more likely to attend religious services on a regular basis.
  • Likewise, as educational levels increase, the likelihood of an individual reading the Bible at least occasionally increases by 15%.
  • The probability of not merely attending religious services, but of identifying with a 'mainline' denomination (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal, etc.) or with the Roman Catholic church increases by 9%.
  • These numbers begin to form a picture of the American population in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Of course, these data raise as many, or more, questions than they answer:

  • To what extent do people understand and affirm various religious doctrines?
  • How do they interpret the Bible?
  • As faith continues to be a powerful motivator in society, and a significant part of personal quests for meaning, demographics will help to both summarize and interpret people's belief systems.