Educational Attainment and Cohort Change Among Conservative Protestants, 1972–2004


Correspondence should be addressed to Rebekah Peeples Massengill, 131 Wallace Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544. E-mail:


A growing literature examines how conservative Protestants have made status gains relative to mainline Protestants over the past three decades. The results of these studies are inconclusive: by some measures conservative Protestants have achieved socioeconomic parity, in other accounts significant discrepancies remain. This article examines the relationship between religion of origin and educational attainment, highlighting the significance of both religious background (rather than adult affiliations) and cohort change in understanding religious stratification. The findings are somewhat mixed: while conservative Protestants born since 1960 are no less likely to finish high school than their mainline counterparts, the negative effect of a conservative Protestant background on college completion remains virtually unchanged for cohorts born before 1940, between 1940 and 1959, and between 1960 and 1972, even when controlling for family background. Conservative Protestants are keeping pace with the educational gains made by mainline Protestants in the postwar era, but other factors associated with a conservative Protestant background still exert a negative influence on educational attainment.