Friday, August 31, 2007

The effect of education on leaving religion

Here are more data from the Uecker study that I posted on yesterday. Again the outcome is whether adolescents leave religion during a 7-year period, and here the analyses look at different educational situations.
It's long been assumed that college decreases religious behavior and beliefs, but these data suggest otherwise. Any substantive interpretations as to why religious disaffiliation is highest among those who didn't go to college?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Which religions have the most young people leave?

Uecker, Regnerus, and Vaaler just published a very interesting study examining the social sources of young people in the U.S. losing their religion. They analyze data from the Add Health data set, and they test if leaving a faith is related to religious affiliation, educational attainment, family formation, or various behaviors. They studied 10,000+ kids who were interviewed twice seven years a part. They were labeled as dropping out of a religion if they said they affiliated with it in the first interview but not in the second interview (actually, wave III).

The average number of "drop-outs" for the whole sample was 17%. (Note, there were also many who went from no religion to a religion, but they are not the focus on this article).

Here are the drop-out rates by denominational/ religion standing.

Clearly there is a lot of variation across religious groups. Why do you think that is?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The all-purpose wedding shop

When Cathy and I were back in Madison, it was nice to visit some of the sites of our early years together, including this store where we did all of our wedding shopping.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

When do most adolescents become less religious?

Here's some more data from Regnerus and Uecker's 2006 study (see yesterday's post for citation & description).

This chart addresses how many kids have a big drop in religiousness each year from 13 to 18. So, the biggest drop happens at age 18, when 9.3% of the kids stopped going to church nearly as much.

The authors make an interesting observation that age 18 is the year that the most kids get into religion and the most get out.

Why do you think that is?

Monday, August 27, 2007

When do teenagers become more religious?

Here are some interesting data from an article by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker (2006--Review of Religious Research 47(3): 217-237).

Using data from over 11,000 adolescents (Add Health Study), they charted at what age the kids made significant religious transitions. Either they say that either religion is now very important where as the previous year it wasn't or they say they are now attending church much more often than they had been.

Two observations: As the authors note, there is a U-shaped distribution, such that age 13 and age 18 are the most mobile times of kid increasing their religious commitment and involvement.

Also, there are more transitions than I would have thought. Multiplying out the cumulative risk of getting more religious during the teens ends up with a pretty big #.


(Tomorrow I'll post data regarding religious decrease.)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Saturday stuff

True story: I went to get my eye glasses fixed last Tuesday, and the doctor was out and the receptionist couldn't help me because... she couldn't find her glasses. Honest.

Cathy and I went to see a local production of The Pirates of Penzance, and I have been trying to work the phrase "the felecity of unbounded domesticity" into all my conversations since.

Here's an article about the odds of dying from different things and what we pay attention to.

Both Floyd and Cathy got Lyme disease this last month... it's one of the few downsides to living where we do. All to common (and named after the Connecticut town Lyme). They should be fien with antibiotics, but there are a lot of scary stories out there about what Lyme can do if not detected.

This is a very funny billboard. I wonder if Satan paid for it?

Friday, August 24, 2007

The 20 least religious countries in the world

Here's a list of the 20 least religious countries (article) in the world. This is from an encyclopedia chapter summarizing survey data from various countries. Obviously the quality of surveys varies widely across countries, so the author, Phil Zuckerman of Claremont College, gives ranges for each country.

1. Sweden (up to 85% non-believer, atheist, agnostic)
2. Vietnam
3. Denmark
4. Norway
5. Japan
6. Czech Republic
7. Finland
8. France
9. South Korea
10. Estonia (up to 49% non-believer, atheist, agnostic)
11. Germany
12. Russia
13. Hungary
14. Netherlands
15. Britain
16. Belgium
17. Bulgaria
18. Slovenia
19. Israel
20. Canada (up to 30% non-believer, atheist, agnostic)

The big surprises for me is South Korea... I have heard about the Christian revival there & has assumed that the whole society was much more religious and Isreal... for obvious reasons.


A photo in need of a caption

I came across this photo the other day, and I've been chuckling about it since.

How do you think it should be captioned?

Here's mine: "Stay away from my peanut butter and banana sandwich." (Okay, an obscure reference.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Why yes, I am aging rapidly

Here's a fun list, put out annually by Beloit College, of the worldview of incoming freshman.
The first one: "what's the Berlin Wall." Ugh...
(Thanks to Jackie for sending it)

Blogging as a chance to be wrong

One of the things that I appreciate most about blogging is the chance to be wrong... Say I forget to mention a relevant body of research literature or I misquote survey question wording or overlook an obvious interpretation of a finding (all things that have happened) it's not a big deal. Usually someone will kindly point out the mistake & I learn and go on.

Basically, blogging is a low-cost place to make mistakes.

I need this because, gasp, I make plenty of them. As such, this quotation resonated with me:

"When someone is honestly 55% right, that's very good and there's no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it's wonderful, it's great luck, and let him thank God. But what's to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he's 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal."

(From James Sire's Habits of the Mind 2000, attributed to an ancient intellectual in Galacia, Spain).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My sister, the fashionista

My sister, Susie, who is in Milan for a week with her husband Paolo, has spent the time hanging out with Supreme Court Justices, ambassadors, and other important people.

Turns out, however, that the usual wardrobe of a soccer mom (even a power soccer mom, like Susie) isn't quite up to snuff. So, she had to go shopping for this trip, and she was worried that she'd have nice enough clothes, given Milan's reputation for fashion.

Well, at one event, another women at the table gushed over Susie's wardrobe, asking if she had purchased it there in Milan. My sister's answer, with a laugh, "no, Stein Mart" at the South Bend mall!

I believe that's a picture of her on the right...


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Role theory

One of my favorite theories in sociology is role theory because it explains so much of what we do and don’t do in everyday life. It even explains why students don’t have pizzas delivered in the middle of class.

A role is a set of expectations held by others about what we are supposed to do when we are in a given social position. For example, if you’re the secretary of a student organization, you may need to take notes during meetings, contact other members regarding events, and keep track of peoples’ dues. Likewise, if you work as a server at the local Mexican restaurant, you are expected to greet customers, take their orders, refill the chips and salsa, check in with them throughout the meal to see if they need anything, and collect their money. You do these things not because of who you are, but because these are the duties of the position. In sociological language, the expectations that you will do what you are supposed to do in a role are called norms.

Role expectations are not just behaviors but emotions and feelings as well. As a server, you greet customers with a corporate-imposed greeting such as: “Hi, I’m Taylor, and I’ll be taking care of you tonight.” (At this point, I usually ask them to go wash my car or something, but they never do…) The role of a server requires you to be cheerful an interested. Don’t really feel that way? Doesn’t matter: You need to do it anyway. Imagine in you greeted customers with an angry snarl or sat down and started telling them all your problems. If you weren’t fired right away, you would at least have a manager instructing you in how to “properly” treat customers.

Roles have remarkably detailed and complex expectations for our behavior. You could fill a thick instruction manual for all the roles we act out. Let’s take a simple situation—what students are supposed to do in a college classroom. Sounds easy, right? There are actually many, many rules that you’re supposed to follow, and if it seems easy, it’s only because you know them already.

In a classroom, you are supposed to:
· Walk into the room—not run, crawl, dance or do handsprings into it.
· Talk with other students quietly—not yell greetings to them as you might if you saw the same person in a different situation. “Hey, you &#@*!, how the &#($)@^ are you doing!” won’t cut it.
· Sit in your chair facing forward. Don’t stand; don’t sit in front, facing the class (this is reserved for the professor); don’t put your feet up on somebody else’s desk.
· Look like you’re paying attention. Even if you’re bored out of your mind and ready to collapse into a deep sleep, face the general direction of the professor and keep your eyes open. Don’t lay down on the floor, put your head on your backpack, and take a nap. (Hey, if I have to be awake for my classes, my students do too!).
· If you have to say something, you raise your hand until acknowledged by the professor. Don’t just yell out, “Hey you, I’ve got something to say.” There are even norms on how to raise your hand! Lift your hand shoulder height and keep it mostly still. Don’t wave both arms frantically.

Over the years, I’ve had various experiences in the classroom that have indicated the power of these norms. In one class I had a student with a learning disability who would often do the “wrong” thing in the classroom. He would ask questions that were off topic. He would sometimes interrupt me during lecture with his comments. He would get really enthusiastic when talking. These behaviors didn’t bother me (professors are usually pretty happy just to have someone participate in class), but the other students were scornful of his violating classroom norms. At first they would roll their eyes and maybe snicker, but after a few weeks they would laugh out loud at him. Not the “we’re having fun” laugh, but the “you’re an idiot” laugh. He could tell what was going on, and after a few weeks, he just dropped the class.

Last semester I taught an evening class in a large lecture hall that holds 330 students. Since it was a two-and-a-half hour class, the students got hungry and usually brought food with them. One evening, a student forgot, and so at the start of class he asked if he could order a pizza. I thought it was a great idea, so I said sure. Well, about 30 minutes later, I was halfway up the stairs on one side of the classroom (I walk around a lot when I teach), and the class burst in to laughter. I looked back, and there in the front of class was this student paying a very confused Domino’s delivery person.

According to role theory, most of us are , rabid conformists. Whether it’s answering a telephone or ordering a coffee or getting married or playing softball or walking down the street or sending an e-mail or just about anything else, we conform to role expectations. They guide much of our lives, both in and out of the classroom.

Monday, August 20, 2007

My famous brother-in-law

My brother-in-law, Paolo Carozza, is giving a talk today along with... Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. Expected audience: several thousand. (Below is the program note).

Just shows how far you can go when you marry into right (Wright?) family ;-)


Time: 11:15

Participants: Samuel A. Alito Jr.,Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States; Paolo Carozza, Professor of Law-Notre Dame University. Speech of welcome by Giovanni Castellaneta, Italian Ambassador to Washington. Introduced by Andrea Simoncini, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Macerata. (Salone D5)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Christianity & joy

Somewhere along the line, Christianity got a bad rap as being boring, tedious, or otherwise unpleasant. Sort of a "should" thing. E.g., "I'd rather have fun, but I should probably do this."

A more accurate casting of faith & desire/ joy comes from C.S. Lews (The Weight of Glory), when he writes:

"Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

This raises an interesting question. If true, why do we do it? Why are we too easily pleased?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Why are vacation stories boring?

Yesterday, amidst driving 15+ hours back from South Bend, I had a chance to reflect on a lot of things, including:

* Our friends & family are very generous in their hospitality
* Why are my kids better travelers than I am?
* Why does Pennsylvania take so long to cross?
* Huh, I thought we had four bicycles piled on the too-small bicycle rack.

This got me thinking about what I would post on the blog about the family trip (3,300 miles, visits to 4 Midwestern states, maybe a dozen McDonald's snack wraps), and I decided "not much."

We had a lot of fun, but in I hestitate to write a lot about because I think most travel narratives are, well, boring. I'm not sure why, but usually (not always) when I hear stories of people's travels, I just don't engage them. I'm not saying that I hide from them for a week or two after they get back, just that listening to travels is usually not that interesting. (Maybe not as bad, though, as listening to people describe their dreams).

Is this just me? If not, why are travel stories boring?

Friday, August 17, 2007

I'm back... lower your expectations

After a 2.5 week trip to the Midwest to do the family thing, I'm back in Storrs. Nothing like a 15.5 hour drive the day before to focus the mind.
I want to thank David for his posts. For those not familiar with sociology publications (and, very, very few people in society are... a comment on sociology), several of David's posts are not far from publishable quality as research notes. In fact, maybe I'll just print them out and send them in to a journal :-)
We had originally intended to spend longer on the trip, but I realized that if I let David blog much more, the readers of this blog would get too used to the quality of his work...
A funny story from the trip: When looking at the South Bend paper, I read an article about how summer county fair goers were choosing healthier food... deep-fried vegetables.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My short happy life as a blogger

I don't know exactly why Brad came up with the idea of starting a blog. He has lots of ideas, some of them good, some of them ..... less good. And when he has ideas, he often tries to enlist other people. After he decided to start his blog, he kept telling me that I should start a blog too. I decided not to follow his advice, but I've enjoyed this chance to try my hand at blogging, and here are a couple of thoughts on the subject:

1. It's hard to come up with something to say every day, especially when you have other things to do. My guess is that a lot of blogs start out with frequent posts, then taper off. I expected that to happen with Brad's blog too, but he's maintained a consistent rate of 6 or so posts a week. I think you need about that rate keep readers, especially readers who also comment. He also comes up with pictures for almost all his posts, which I didn't even try to do.

2. I think that one of the things that's made this blog successful is that it has some themes, but doesn't follow them too rigidly. It also helps that one of the themes, religion, is of interest to a lot of people. At one point, I discovered the "next blog" button and did some browsing through blogs. One of the posts that sticks in my was someone complaining about how no one seemed to be paying any attention to her blog. She seemed to post frequently, had been doing it for a long time by blog standards, and it seemed pretty well written. But the topics seemed to be mostly everyday frustrations like bad drivers. Maybe if you already have a loyal base of readers, they'll read (and even enjoy) that sort of thing. But it's not going to attract people in the first place.

--David Weakliem

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Religion and satisfaction

The previous post looked at the relationship between religion and what people say is important to them. This will look at the relationship between religion and satisfaction with various aspects of life using data from the same survey.

There were no clear differences on two questions: how often do people at work take you seriously? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the country?

There were differences on the following questions: do you feel appreciated by others? All of the strongly religious groups were more likely to say yes. Satisfaction with your job: all of the strongly religious groups reported more satisfaction. Relationship with family: strong Catholics were the most satisfied, strong white Protestants next, and strong black Protestants and the not strongly religious were about equal. Whether you have a better or worse life than your parents did: strong black Protestants were most likely to say better, followed by strong white Protestants. There was no real difference between strong Catholics and the not strongly religious. Accomplishment compared with what you expected in your youth: strong white Protestants and strong Catholics were most likely to say that they'd accomplished more than they expected to; strong Black Protestants and the not strongly religious were about equal.

And finally, how happy you are with the way you look: strong black Protestants and strong Catholics were the happiest. Strong white Protestants and the not strongly religious were about equal. How seriously should we take the strong white Protestant/strong Catholic difference? Well, for those who know and care about such things, the t-ratio for the hypothesis of no difference is about 4. That means pretty strong statistical evidence that strong Catholics are happier about their looks than strong (white) Protestants--I have no idea how to explain it.

Overall, there seems to be a tendency for strongly religious people to be more satisfied with their lives. From these data, it's not possible to know if that's because their lives are better in an "objective" sense or because they have different standards.--David Weakliem

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Religion and what's important to people

Brad has had a number of posts about the relationship to religion to various kinds of behavior (or at least reports of behavior). Here I'll report some data about religion and people's general feelings about life--what's important to them and how satisfied they are with various aspects of their lives. Today I'll consider a series of questions about the importance of various things--the questions are of the form "How important to you is X--very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not at all important?" The data come from a New York Times poll, given to a random sample of American adults in July 1999. I classified people into four groups: strong Protestants (white); strong Protestants (black); strong Catholics; and not strongly religious (a few people didn't fall into any of these categories and were excluded). People were counted as "strong" if they said that religion was very important in their daily lives and that they attended religious services frequently. The classification somewhat arbitrary--for example, I could have made the black/white distinction among Catholics and not strongly religious as well, but I wanted to keep the number of categories reasonably small. Under this definition, about 800 people were counted as not strongly religious, 200 as strong white Protestants; 30 as strong black Protestants, and 90 as strong Catholics.

Points on which there was no clear difference: the importance of "being able to communicate feelings" (about 80% in all groups rate it as very important); "having a fulfilling job" (about 75% very important); "having good health" (about 90% very important); "being responsible for your own actions" (about 95% very important); and "standing up for yourself" (about 90%). Strong black Protestants rate "being physically attractive" as somewhat more important than all of the other groups, so that difference probably has to do with race rather than religion.

Points on which there were differences: unsurprisingly, pretty much everyone in the strongly religious groups rates "being religious" and "having faith in God" as very important. They also rank "being married" and "having children" as more important compared to people in the not strongly religious group. For example, 53% of the not strongly religious rate being married as very important, versus 59% of strong black Protestants, 73% of strong white Protestants, and 66% of strong Catholics. Strongly religious people, especially strong black Protestants, rate "being involved in the community" as more important. The same is true of "being a good neighbor": between 75 and 85% of the strongly religious groups rate it as very important, compared to 62% of the not strongly religious. Strong Catholics and strong white Protestants rate "having a lot of friends" as more important than the other two groups, so both race and religion may be involved. And finally, strong white Protestants stand out as ranking "having enough time for yourself" as less important than all the other groups. It's not a huge difference, but it's large enough so that it's unlikely to be the result of chance: 58% of the not strongly religious, but only 40% of the strong white Protestants, say that it's very important.

So overall, there seems to be a pretty clear pattern--compared to less religious people, more religious people rate everything involving relations with other people as more important. I think there may be some subtler differences, but this is the one that stands out.--David Weakliem

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Well, not all that devastating

As I said in my last post, a little calculation suggests that the effect of ethnic diversity on social capital isn't all that big. Why didn't Putnam notice this? Two things that often go in different directions--theoretical interest and relevance to public policy--both tended to focus attention on the diversity effect in this case.

The questions that seem "interesting" to social scientists are those where there's debate about the existence or direction of effect. The strong effects of variables like education, race, and home ownership on trust of neighbors are so familiar to people who are familiar with the subject that they don't seem very interesting. (Although when you think about it, they're not necessarily so obvious--for example, why does home ownership make so much difference?) Also, the fact that your own characteristics affect your opinions or behavior is unsurprising--"contextual effects," where other peoples' characteristics affect your views, seem more interesting. In fact, Putnam compares diversity to one of the other contextual effects, percent of the neighborhood with college degrees, and notes that it's large relative to that. But all of the contextual effects are small relative to the major individual characteristics. Hence, differences between neighborhood differences are mainly just the result of the aggregation of individual differences--the neighborhoods with high levels of trust are those that have the sort of people who trust their neighbors (older, more educated, homeowners, and so on). But that doesn't seem all that interesting.

The second factor is relevance to debates on public policy. It's natural to focus on the findings that bear on controversial issues, and diversity or multiculturalism is certainly one. However, although controversial issues are by definition symbolically important, they're not necessarily the most practically important ones. In comparative terms, ethnic diversity in the United States is fairly high, although not at the top (of course, it depends on how you define "ethnic", but that's how it generally comes out). That would still be true if even if restrictions on immigration were dramatically tightened or loosened tomorrow. So although changes in ethnic diversity will certainly have some impact on American society, they probably aren't going to be as important as changes in factors like average educational levels, income, and age distribution--certainly Putnam's results indicate that those will have more effect on future levels of social capital. But those aren't the subject of much political controversy, so we tend to take them for granted.
--David Weakliem

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Devastating Influence?

".... immigration and ethnic diversity have a devastating short- and medium-term influence on the social capital, fabric of associations, trust, and neighborliness that create and sustain communities." That's the finding of Robert Putnam's just-published research, according to a story by John Leo in City Journal. The argument is a familiar one--for example, Pat Buchanan has been saying the same thing for years--but there are two things that make Putnam's work stand out: first, he's not just offering an opinion, but a conclusion based on an analysis of data from a large number of communities, and second, it's definitely not the result that he wanted to find. He supports immigration and ethnic diversity, is clearly troubled by his findings, and spends the last few pages of the article suggesting policies that might reduce the "tradeoff between diversity and community." Leo even suggests that Putnam sat on the results for five years because of his discomfort with them, although Putnam disputes this (see his comment on Leo's story at the link above).

Social science research often gets distorted and oversimplified when it's reported in the popular press, but that's not the case here. Here's a quote from Putnam's own article: "inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors . . . to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from the community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less . . . and to huddle unhappily in front of the television." It's not a pretty picture. After reading the article, I'm pretty convinced that ethnic diversity really does reduce the sense of community and trust (what social scientists often call "social capital"). The basic question with any statistical analysis is "have you considered X?," where X is some other variable that might be the real cause of whatever you're trying to predict. For example, cities tend to be more ethnically diverse than rural areas and small towns, so maybe the real story is that cities have less social capital. Putnam considered that, and a lot of other things. Of course, you can never consider everything, and maybe someone will come up with some other "X" that is the real culprit, but until that happens I think that his conclusion should be accepted.

However, I'm not too concerned. While I agree that ethnic diversity appears to reduce social capital, the effect really isn't very big. At first glance, it seems substantial: for example, in the most ethnically diverse communities in his sample (e. g., San Francisco) about 30% of people say that they trust their neighbors "a lot"; in the least diverse (e. g., the state of New Hampshire), it's 55-60%. However, this is without taking account of all the other differences between more and less diverse communities--the "X" factors. The standard way to take account of them is with a statistical technique called "multiple regression." Putnam presents the results from a multiple regression predicting trust in neighbors, which he says are typical of those found for other variables related to social capital. The regression results indicate that ethnic diversity has an effect, but not a very big one. For example, suppose you're comparing two otherwise similar people, one of whom lives in a highly diverse neighborhood, the kind that's typical of San Francisco, the other in a very homogeneous one, the kind that's typical of New Hampshire. The predicted difference in the variable measuring trust in neighbors is .10. Trust isn't a tangible quality like height or weight, so the exact number isn't meaningful, but we can use it for comparisons. For example, suppose you compare two otherwise similar people, one a college graduate, the other a high school graduate who didn't attend college. The college graduate will have a higher predicted value, by about .16. Comparing a 60-year-old to a 20-year-old, the 60 year old will have a higher predicted value, by about .40. Other factors that have big effects on trust of neighbors include home ownership, one's own ethnicity (blacks and Latinos trust their neighbors less), and one's financial situation (people who make more and are more satisfied with their financial situation trust them more).

So his description of the effects of ethnic diversity isn't wrong, but it needs a lot of qualifiers--"somewhat," "a little," that kind of thing. In a few cases it might be possible to give exact numbers--for example, how many more minutes per day do inhabitants of diverse communities spend huddled in front of the television? I haven't analyzed the data myself, and Putnam's article doesn't provide the information needed to calculate the figure, but I'm guessing it's not a big number. Another way to look at it is that, according to Putnam's regression results, the effect of ethnic diversity is about as large as the effect of residential mobility--as you might expect, people living in neighborhoods with more turnover don't trust their neighbors as much. However, few people would say that residential mobility has a "devastating" impact on communities and that something needs to be done to stop it.

So the overall point is one that's routinely taught in statistics classes--that the size of an effect is important--a "highly significant" effect isn't necessarily a "big" effect. The apparent effect of ethnic diversity isn't trivial, but it's not big enough so that it should make much difference in debates over immigration. I was going to say more, but one of the features I like about Brad's blog is that he doesn't make his posts too long, so I'll emulate him and save it for next time.--David Weakliem

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Pinch hitting for Brad Wright

As Brad said in his last post, I'll be filling in while he's enjoying his vacation. I'm away at a conference now, so my first full-scale post won't be until this weekend. I expect to concentrate on the sociology side, revisiting a few topics that Brad has discussed in other posts and maybe introducing some new ones. --David Weakliem

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Blog vacation

I'll be away from the blog for awhile, and my friend and colleague, David Weakliem, has agreed to be a guest blogger while I'm gone. His posts should be informative and interesting, but don't get too used to them... I'll be back in two weeks.