Social Context and College Completion in the United States: The Role of Congregational Biblical Literalism

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2015


Prior research has documented the influence of religion on a variety of stratification processes. Largely absent from this research, however, are explicit examinations of the role religious contexts play in educational outcomes. In this study, we focus on the congregation-level prevalence of a salient religious belief: biblical literalism. Using national multilevel data (U.S. Congregational Life Survey [USCLS]; N = 92,344), we examine whether individuals' likelihood of completing college is dependent on the percentage of fellow congregation members who are biblical literalists. We find that college completion is tied to congregational literalism in important ways. Net of individual biblical literalism and other controls, congregational literalism decreases the likelihood of completing college. In addition, while congregational biblical literalism decreases the likelihood of college completion for both biblical literalists and non-literalists, the relationship is strongest for non-literalists such that in highly literalist congregations, non-literalists' likelihood of college completion more closely resembles that of literalists.