The relationship between religion and social class

The relationship between social class and religion is not straightforward: the middle classes are, in general, more likely to attend church, but they are also less likely to believe in God and more likely to be atheists and join both world affirming and world rejecting NRMs.

The working classes are less likely to attend church, yet more likely to believe in God than the middle classes. There are also certain denominations and even sects which might appeal specifically to the working classes: such as Methodism, for example.

Church attendance and social class

The ‘middle classes’ have higher rates of church attendance than the ‘working classes’

  • A 2015 YouGov survey of 7000 adults found that 62% of regular church goers were middle class and 38% working class.
  • The same 2015 survey found that twice as many married working class men had never attended church compared to middle class men (17% compared to 9%).
  • Voas and Watt (2014) conducted research on behalf of the Church of England and made three observations not directly about social class, but relevant to it. Firstly, church attendance is higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. Secondly, church attendance is higher in the South of England compared to the North. Thirdly, they noted growth in church attendance in areas which had high performing church primary and secondary schools. All of these indicators suggest higher church attendance in middle class compared to working class areas.
  • Ashworth and Farthing (2007) found that, for both sexes, those in middle class jobs had above average levels of church attendance. Conversely, those in skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled working class jobs had below average church attendance. Welfare recipients had the lowest levels of church attendance.

Religious belief and social class

  • A 2016 YouGov Survey revealed that 48% of those in social grades ABC1 described themselves as ‘Atheist’ compared to 42% of those in social grades C2ED.

  • A 2013 review of >60 research studies on the relationship between IQ and religiosity found that people with higher IQs are more likely to be atheists. (High IQs are correlated with higher levels of education and higher social class).
  • Lawes (2009) found that ‘lifelong theists’ disproportionately come from unskilled and semi-skilled manual backgrounds, and were less likely to have academic qualifications. Conversely, lifelong atheists disproportionately come from higher professional and managerial backgrounds, and are more likely to have experienced higher education.

NB – It’s worth noting how this contradicts what’s above in terms of church attendance

Social class, religion and deprivation 

There is some evidence that those suffering deprivation (the lower social classes) are more likely to turn to religion…..

  • Churches in deprived inner city areas tend to have higher rates of attendance.
  • Methodist, Pentacostal and Baptist denominations  tend to be more working class.
  • Catholic Churches are more likely to attract Irish, Polish and African immigrants who have typically experienced higher levels of deprivation.

New Religious Movements and social class

As a general rule, the middle classes are more attracted to both World Affirming NRMs (and the New Age Movement), and World Rejecting NRMs, at least according to Eileen Barker’s classic study of ‘The Moonies’.

Problems with identifying the relationship between religion and social class

  1. Andrew Mckinnon notes that there has been a ‘dearth’ of research on the relationship between religion and social class, meaning there is something of a data gap.
  2. Because of the above, we are often stuck with relying on indicators which might not actually measure social class.
  3. Even if the data suggests that church attendance and belief are higher among the middle classes, this doesn’t necessarily mean the middle classes are actually more religious. They may just be attending church to keep up appearances or to get their children into the local church school (which tend to have high academic performance); or they  may feel under more social pressure to state they are religious than the working classes

Sources: 

Chapman et al, as well as the good ole’ t’internet.

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