February 17, 2010

Working with numbers

The Gallup Survey folks came out with a survey indicating what state had the most churchgoers.

The survey showed that Mississippi led the nation with 63 percent of the people saying they attended a religious service weekly or almost weekly.

The top-10 church attendance states are:

State

% attend weekly religious services

Mississippi

63

Alabama

58

South Carolina

56

Louisiana

56

Utah

56

Tennessee

54

Arkansas

53

North Carolina

53

Georgia

51

Texas

50

You will notice that most of these states are in the South.

The states that showed the fewest number of people attending regular church services come mostly from the Northeast and Northwest.

State

% attend weekly religious services

Vermont

23

New Hampshire

26

Maine

27

Massachusetts

29

Nevada

30

Hawaii

31

Oregon

31

Alaska

31

Washington

32

Rhode Island

32

Connecticut

32

Alone these numbers are interesting if you are going to do a story about regular church attendance.

But let’s look further.

Is there a relationship between education and regular church attendance. Conventional wisdom says the more educated a person is, the less likely he or she will regularly attend religious service.

Let’s compare some date.

Thanks to the U.S. Census Bureau, we can come up with a chart that provides the education level of each state.

It is easy enough to work through the Census Bureau web site (www.census.gov) to create a custom table that will give us the basic information we need to use to start the comparison.

All taken from the 2006-2008 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates

So now we can look at how education and regular religious service attendance compare.

State

Ranking of religious attendance

Percentage of college graduates compared to population

Ranking of 50 states plus DC and PR for college graduates

Mississippi

1

12

51

Alabama

2

14

46

South Carolina

3

15

38

Louisiana

4

13

48

Utah

5

16

29

Tennessee

6

15

44

Arkansas

7

12

49

North Carolina

8

17

27

Georgia

9

17

24

Texas

10

16

37

Vermont

51

23

6

New Hampshire

50

22

7

Maine

49

18

18

Massachusetts

48

25

2

Nevada

47

14

44

Hawaii

46

20

13

Oregon

45

19

15

Alaska

44

16

28

Washington

43

20

11

Rhode Island

42

20

12

Connecticut

41

23

3

A similar pattern emerges when frequency of religious attendance is compared with a state’s ranking for populations with at least a 12th grade education but not a high school graduate.

This proves everything, right? Numbers don’t lie, do they?

It’s not so much that numbers don’t lie but they are not the whole story.

Nevada is #1 has 1.85% of its population with 12 years of schooling but no degree. It sits at number 44 among the states and territories for college graduates. And it is one of the least religious states in the survey.

Why do you think? (Hint: In what state is Las Vegas and Reno located? Another hint: What state showed the largest housing boom – and bust – in the past five years?)

The numbers get you started. And you can use them to help build the structure of your story but real work is explaining what the numbers mean and putting a human face to them.

___________________________________________________

Oh, and it only took me about 45 minutes to look up the data on the Census Bureau web page, save the file as an Excel document and do the quick and dirty analysis. So "not having enough time" doesn't work as an excuse.

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