Date of Award

Fall 2019

Document Type


First Advisor

Catherine Berheide

Second Advisor

Andrew Lindner


This study analyzes the impacts of higher education on religiosity among young adults. Much of the literature on this topic points to a secularizing effect among college-aged individuals. Scholars have pointed to theories such as emerging adulthood, moral community, and secularization to explain this relationship (Davignon and Thompson 2015; McFarland, Wright, and Weakliem 2011; Schwadel 2015). This research uses the third wave of the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR), which was collected in 2008 and produced a sample of 1,464 cases, to test the widely held belief that college students exhibit less religiosity than non-college educated emerging adults. Age was also held constant as the survey only interviewed 18 to 24-year-olds. Running a regression analysis while controlling for the respondents’ gender yielded results that confirm one hypothesis and disconfirm the others. College attendance is not a significant predictor of three of my four measures of religiosity: frequency of prayer, frequency of religious service attendance, and perceived decline in religiosity. The assumption that a college education is secularizing might no longer be true, especially for young women who report greater levels of religiosity than young men on two of the religiosity measures at the p < .01 level. However, this analysis revealed college attendance as a significant predictor of one’s doubt in religious beliefs, but at a lower alpha level (p < .05). Although religion is certainly changing shape in the 21st century, it may not be shifting in the way scholars have long predicted, and these changes certainly vary among different social groups.