Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jason D. Boardman

Second Advisor

Stefanie Mollborn

Third Advisor

Joanne Belknap

Fourth Advisor

Richard Rogers

Fifth Advisor

Fernando Riosmena


This dissertation investigates religious mobility among a recent cohort of young adults in the U.S. This population is of interest because their behaviors indicate whether trends in affiliation and mobility among the entire adult population are likely to continue. Using a national-representative longitudinal dataset, I examine the frequency of switching from the religious affiliation of adolescence, the prevalence of being unaffiliated, and the degree to which individuals engage in multiple switching. Patterns of mobility between affiliations are estimated using log-multiplicative modeling techniques, and three explanations of religious mobility are tested to determine which one best fits the observed patterns. In addition, logistic regression is used to estimate the probability of unaffiliated adolescents claiming religious affiliations by young adulthood. In sum, this research finds that switching frequencies appear to be increasing over time; the prevalence of being unaffiliated is higher now than at any time in U.S. history; and the degree of multiple switching suggests greater overall religious mobility than previously thought. The patterns of mobility confirm that the recent trends of switching away from mainline Protestantism and switching into evangelical and non-denominational Protestantism is continuing. Three explanations regarding religious switching patterns are examined-- the secularization thesis, the strong rational choice model, and the weak rational choice model. Of the three, the weak rational choice model, which allows for the possibility of social influences and constraints on the choice process, best describes religious switching patterns. The findings from this research improve our understanding of overall religious mobility, in general, and the religious choice to affiliate, in particular. Further, this dissertation underscores the importance of treating religious choices as socially embedded phenomena.