Hindus, Muslims among America's best-educated groups, report finds

A new study from the Pew Research Center found that Hindus and Muslims have some of the highest levels of schooling of all religious groups in the United States. 

Julie Jacobson/AP/File
Enas Almadhwahi, an immigration outreach organizer for the Arab American Association of New York, stands for a photo along Fifth Avenue in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn on Nov. 11, in New York. The 28-year-old Yemeni immigrant has been in the US since 2008 and became a citizen in 2016.

Hindus and Muslims are two of the most highly educated religious groups in the United States, a new survey from the Pew Research Center has found.

Hindus living in the US have, on average, nearly 16 years of education, and Muslims nearly 14 years, making them the first and third most educated religious groups in the country. American Jews come in second, with just under 15 years of schooling, and US Christians have an average just under 13 years.

The high education levels of US Hindus and Muslims don't correlate with the education levels of Hindus and Muslims worldwide, however, where they rank as the two least educated of major religious groups, with an average of just 5.6 years. Therefore, experts say, the Pew data suggests that a combination of factors, including US immigration policies and world migration patterns, have resulted in a cultural phenomenon unique to the United States.

"A lot of people, when they look at Asian Americans and their relative success, say there's something about Asian culture," Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political scientist and immigration scholar at the University of California, Riverside, told NPR. "[But] if you look at culture in Asia, it doesn't predict the same level of success. So we have to look for answers elsewhere."

Much of the disconnect between the levels of education may be attributed to the fact that most Hindus and Muslims in America tend to be recent immigrants, the authors of the study say: Nearly nine out of 10 Hindus and two out of three Muslims in the US were born outside of the country.

Unlike immigrants from Mexico and Central America, who are able to cross more easily into the US with or without immigration papers, most Muslim and Hindu immigrants must travel to America "perhaps at considerable cost" and "have to deal with U.S. migration policies, which in many cases favor people who have skills that they have acquired through considerable education," Conrad Hackett, the lead researcher on the study, noted to NPR.

In contrast, the growth of Muslim communities in European countries in recent years has been largely the result of an influx of refugees and low-skilled immigrants. In Germany, the study found, Muslims had, on average, 4.2 years less education than non-Muslims.

Advocates and researchers have attributed the socioeconomic gap between Muslims in the US and Muslims in France, for example, to sociological differences.

"The Muslim community in France is marginalized, impoverished, constantly humiliated. They live as second-class citizens, in slums, their kids have no jobs, they’re insulted whenever they step out of their areas. They don’t have a sense of hope," Akbar Ahmed, the chair of Islamic Studies at American University’s School of International Service, told the International Business Times last year. "That’s not true in the U.S. However bad the situation may get in the United States, the community doesn’t lose hope. Muslims there may feel that there is some prejudice against them but that they can still succeed."

While Hindus held the title of most well-educated religious group in the US, the study found another demographic to have the highest levels of schooling overall: those with no religion at all.

"The higher the level of education in a country, the larger the share of people with no religion tends to be," Mr. Hackett told The New York Times. "Atheists and agnostics, or people with no religion in particular, have higher education levels than the religiously affiliated do in the US."

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