Left behind? : the conservative Protestant gap in educational attainment



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About one-fourth of Americans claim a conservative Protestant (CP) religious affiliation, making conservative Protestantism the largest religious tradition in the United States. CPs lag behind other religious groups in average educational attainment. Despite notable government efforts to ensure that no young American is “left behind,” relatively little scholarly attention has been paid to the CP educational gap. In this dissertation, I begin by using 30 years of data from the GSS to describe the CP gap, especially noting that the CP gap is largely driven by relatively lower rates of college attendance among CPs. After socio-demographic factors are taken into account, the CP gap in college attendance is larger than the more widely studied black-white gap in college attendance. Thus, the remainder of this dissertation focuses exclusively on the CP gap in college attendance. The most commonly offered explanation for the CP educational gap is that CPs resist schooling because of anti-educational elements in CP culture. I directly test several hypotheses related to the resistance theory, in addition to examining alternative hypotheses related to resource deficiencies, educational ambivalence, and demographic factors. Specifically, I analyze data from multiple waves of the Add Health study along with data from the companion AHAA study. In chapter 5, I find that White CPs are less likely to want to attend college than their non-CP peers. In chapter 6, I discover that CPs (regardless of race and gender) are less likely than non-CP peers to complete upper-level courses , but no more likely to post lower GPAs. Finally, in chapter 7, I directly investigate college matriculation and find that CPs are less likely than their non-CP peers to attend college, largely because of resource deficiencies but, to a lesser degree because of their lower aspirations and inadequate preparation. Ultimately, I find little evidence that CPs are directly resisting college attendance. Instead, they appear to be disadvantaged at fairly young ages due to relative resource deficiencies compared with non-CP peers. In light of these findings, future investigations would best be directed at understanding educationally related interactions between CPs and their parents.