Why do people dropout of religious participation? Much of the existing research addressingthis question is geared toward discovering simple correlates of dropping out with the aim of predictingwho will leave (Hadaway and Roof 1988). While scholars have found some correlates, many lacunaeremain in trying to answer this question. First, much of the literature is a-theoretical; it describescharacteristics correlated with dropping out without providing clear rationales for why thosecharacteristics are or should associate with dropping out (Hadaway and Roof 1988; Roof andMcKinney 1987). Secondly, there is little or no discussion of the changing characteristics of dropoutsover time (Condran and Tamney 1985) Given the increasing percentages of dropouts in the U.S.(Kosmin, Mayer, and Keysar 2001), it is possible that the characteristics of dropouts or predictors of dropping out change over time. This project attempts to fill primarily the second lacunae by providinga clear theoretical framework that helps, in part, explain why people drop out while examining thechanging relationship between dropping out and the correlates of dropping out over time.
Before I discuss the correlates of dropping out, let me first clarify the definitions I usethroughout this paper as they reflect my categories of interest. As noted above, I am interested in thecorrelates of dropping out. But what do I mean by dropping out? There are a number of existing termsused to refer to people who leave religions, ranging from the relatively benign “disaffiliate” and“disidentifier” to the more value laden “deserter” and “defector.” These terms refer to individuals wholeave a religion, but they do not necessarily specify where such individuals end up. I am interested in