Is more Internet use correlated to a decline in religious affiliation?

A new study suggests using the Internet more is correlated with lower levels of religious affiliation:

Downey analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a well-respected annual research survey carried out by the University of Chicago, to make his findings.

Downey says the single biggest cause of religious affiliation is upbringing: those you are raised in religious households are much more likely to remain in their family’s religion as adults…

By far the largest factor, says Downey, is Internet use.

In the 1980s, Internet use was virtually non-existent, but in 2010, 53 per cent of people spent two hours online a week and 25 per cent spent more than seven hours…

Downey says that his research has controlled for ‘most of the obvious candidates, including income, education, socioeconomic status, and rural/urban environments’ to discount a third factor, one that is responsible both for the rise of Internet use and the drop in religiosity.

Since the full story is behind a subscriber wall, two speculations about the methodology of this study:

1. This sounds like a regression and/or ANOVA analysis based on R-squared changes. In other words, when one explanatory factor is in the model, how much more of the variation in the dependent variable (religiosity) is explained? You can then add or subtract different factors singly or in combination to see how that percent of variation explained changes.

2. Looking at religious affiliation is just one way to measure religiosity. Affiliation is based on self-identification (do you consider yourself a Catholic, mainline Protestant, conservative Protestant, etc.) or what religious congregation you regularly attend or interact with. But, levels of religious affiliation have been falling in recent years even as not all measures of religiosity are falling. Research about the rise of the “religious nones” shows a number of these people still are spiritual or perform religious practices.

If there is a strong causal relationship between increased Internet use and less religiosity, why might this be the case? A few ideas:

1. The Internet opens people up to a whole realm of information beyond themselves. Traditionally, people would look to those around them, whether individuals or institutions, within relatively close proximity. The Internet breaks a lot of these social boundaries and allows people to search for information way beyond themselves.

2. The Internet offers social interactions in a way that religion used to. Instead of going to a religious congregation to meet people, the Internet offers the possibilities of finding like-minded people in all sorts of areas from hobbies and interests, people in the same career field, dating websites, and people you want to sell goods to. In other words, some of the social aspects of religion can now be replicated online.

3. The Internet in its medium and content tends to be individualistic. Anyone with an Internet connection can do all sorts of things without relying on others (outside of having a service provider). This simply feeds into individualistic attitudes that already existed in the United States.

It sounds like there is a lot more here for researchers to explore and unpack.

Lincoln, Nebraska #1 city in well-being

A new survey from Gallup and Healthways puts Lincoln, Nebraska as the number one city in the U.S. for well-being:

Lincoln, Neb., had the highest Well-Being Index score (72.8) in the U.S. across the 189 metropolitan areas that Gallup and Healthways surveyed in 2012. Also in the top 10 are Boulder, Colo.; Provo-Orem, Utah; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo.; and Burlington-South Burlington, Vt…

At 60.8, Charleston, W.Va., had the lowest Well-Being Index score, displacing Huntington-Ashland, W.Va.-Ky.-Ohio, which held this position the two previous years. Huntington-Ashland’s score of 61.2 is up from 58.1 in 2010, which is the lowest score on record for any metro area across five years of data collection. Mobile, Ala.; Utica-Rome, N.Y.; Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, N.C.; and Fort Smith, Ark.-Okla.; join Charleston and Huntington-Ashland as frequent occupants of the bottom 10 list each year…

Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, Va.-Md.-W.Va., residents reported the highest wellbeing among the nation’s 52 largest metropolitan areas, defined as those with 1 million residents or more, followed by San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif. These two metros have been in the top five among large metro areas in each of the past five years…

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index score is an average of six sub-indexes, which individually examine life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities. The overall score and each of the six sub-index scores are calculated on a scale from 0 to 100, where a score of 100 represents the ideal. Gallup and Healthways have been tracking these measures daily since January 2008.

Interesting as there are more cities from the Great Plains and Midwest than I expected.

A few thoughts about the methodology:

1. After all is added up across these six measures, there isn’t much variation between the top and the bottom. Lincoln had the highest score at 72.8 and Charleston had the lowest at 60.8. So on a scale of 0 to 100, the range was just 12. This suggests there is not much variation in these measures and that this index may not tell us a whole lot. Are Americans simply generally optimistic about these topics or are they realistically not that different across cities?

2. What exactly does Gallup and Healthways do with this information that it requires daily polling? This is not a small sample:

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey Jan. 2-Dec. 29, 2012, with a random sample of 353,563 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

Perhaps there is some marketing edge to this surveying or it is related to some big research project.

Bonus well-being info: for occupations, doctors and then K-12 teachers lead the way and manufacturing-production workers and then transportation workers are at the bottom.