Using the Internet can destroy your faith. That’s the conclusion of a study showing that the dramatic drop in religious affiliation in the U.S. since 1990 is closely mirrored by the increase in Internet use
- New research shows that the number of Americans with religious affiliations has dropped by 18 per cent, or 25 million people
- Computer scientist Allen Downey says there is a correlation between the drop and the rise of Internet use
- He says the increased usage of the internet correlates to 25 per cent of the drop
MailOnline: New research has shown a correlation between the rise of the Internet and the decline of Americans claiming religious affiliation.
Other factors, such as an increase in higher education, are also implicated, but according to Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, the increase in Internet usage has a significant correlation.
The MIT Technology Review reports that in 1990, eight per cent of Americans had no religious affiliation. In 2010, that figure stands at 18 per cent, or 25 million people.
Religious figures: Downey says that increased Internet usage correlates to about 25 per cent of the drop in religiosity
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.
However, since 1990, the number of people who had relgious upbringings has fallen, leading to a decrease in religious individuals – but Downey says that can only account for 25 per cent of the drop.
Higher education at the college level is also correlated with the drop in religion, but although the number of people receiving a college education has increased 10 per cent since the 1980s, Downey says it only accounts for a five per cent drop.
Crossed off: About 25 million fewer Americans have religious affiliations today than back in 1990
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 is careful to note that his research has revealed a correlation and not a causation. A relationship between the rise of the Internet and the drop in religion exists, but one is not directly responsible for the other.
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.
However, that still leaves a 45 per cent drop in religious affiliation that is unaccounted for.
‘About half of the observed change remains unexplained,’ Downey told the MIT Technology Review.