Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
The Gallup Poll and General Social Survey have asked Americans about their religious service attendance since 1939 and 1972, respectively. With remarkable consistency, these two surveys have estimated that just over 40% of the American population regularly attends religious services. Yet, recent research has called this “gold standard” into question, citing three sources of bias in these estimates: (a) ambiguous item wording, (b) an ambiguously specified time frame; and (c) data collection methods that lend themselves to socially desirable responding. Several lines of research have developed to eliminate or minimize these sources of bias, but these efforts have yielded a wide variety of results, with some estimates being half as much as the gold standard! Methodological and psychometric differences are not the only source of variation, however. The characteristics of those sampled into studies also introduces variability. Given that attendance estimates are likely influenced by variations in both methodology and sampling, this study uses meta-analytic techniques to estimate the extent of their influence and to estimate the attendance rate after controlling for their influence. The findings indicate that efforts to reduce socially desirable responding have had the greatest impact on the attendance rate, followed by efforts to overcome the ambiguously specified time-frame. In addition, attendance rates are positively related to the proportion of African Americans, Whites and married respondents sampled, as well as mean years of education. Attendance rates are also negatively related to the proportion of 18 to 30 year-old respondents sampled. After controlling for these methodological and socio-demographic study characteristics, the prevalence of weekly attendance in America was variously estimated as 41.4% for the gold standard items, 43.1% for items measuring attendance in the past week, 27.8% when asking respondents what they did yesterday (i.e., on Sunday via the time-use methodology) and 22.7% when attendance was counted manually.
This dissertation is Open Access and may be downloaded by anyone.