Creating the Reltrad Variable in the General Social Survey Using R

Haven’t you always wanted an easy to access R script to create the famous reltrad religious categorizaton in the General Social Survey? Well, today is your lucky day.

The measure of religious affiliation described in (Steensland et al. 2000), otherwise known as reltrad, remains the most popular way to categorize people religiously in the United States. Early development of the measure was done by Corwin Smidt, Bud Kellstedt and James Guth during their annual seminars on measuring religion offered at Calvin College. The reltrad crowd continues to think their measure is pretty good (Woodberry et al. 2012). A reltrad for African Americans has been developed - this is required reading for those who use reltrad in their research (Shelton and Cobb 2017).

Up until now, the code to create the reltrad variable from the General Social Survey has only been available in PDF. Stata code for reltrad is available from Lifeway Research. Lifeway also published R code. Ryan Burge has Stata code up on Github: https://github.com/ryanburge/reltrad.

Here, I am providing a link to my repository with an R translation of the code that is more reproducible. I apply this to the 1972-2016 GSS combined data file. Note that I do incorporate the corrections suggested by (Stetzer and Burge 2016).

The code takes a GSS datafile and then recodes religious affiliation into the reltrad scheme created by Steensland et al. It breaks the US population into Conservative Protestant, Mainline Protestant, Black Protestant, Jewish, Other, and Non-Affiliated.

I’ve written this code in vanilla R, but resorted to the car package for easier recoding. The code is pretty well commented, but tweet at me or email me if you have questions. It’s also bad code that I wrote a long while ago. I’d do this differently with dplyr.

First, here’s how to get the NORC data down:

#Not run
#Get the GSS data, import into a temp file and unzip
#read in the GSS data
#Convert to R data format
#Save
library(dplyr)
temp <- tempfile()
download.file("http://gss.norc.org/documents/stata/GSS_stata.zip",temp)
unzip(temp, files="GSS7216_R4.DTA",exdir = "OrigData")
unlink(temp);rm(temp)
gss = haven::read_dta("OrigData/GSS7216_R4.DTA")
#Load the data
#
#Get the variables we want, this is a huge dataset.
#Save where you like:
file = "OrigData/gss7216.data"
gss =  gss %>% select(relig, other, race, denom, year, attend, id, wtssall, sample)
save(gss, file=file)
names(gss)

The full code to create reltrad in R lives here.

After the code is run, the results can be quickly tabulated. The following table looks at how the religious composition of the US has changed over time. This uses the very useful wrapper crosstab( ) for the CrossTable( ) function in the package descr. It allows you to make weighted crosstabs easily and prettily. In subsequent posts, I will have some fun with ggplot to visual these data.

## @knitr ReltradTable
library(descr)
print(
  crosstab(gss$year,gss$reltrad,
           weight = gss$wtssall, prop.c = T, prop.r = T, prop.t = F, 
           total.c = F, plot = F))
##    Cell Contents 
## |-------------------------|
## |                   Count | 
## |             Row Percent | 
## |          Column Percent | 
## |-------------------------|
## 
## ==============================================================================
##             gss$reltrad
## gss$year    Blck Prt   Cnsrvt P   Jewish   Mnln Prt    None   Other   Rmn Cthl
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1972            220        264       48        450      83      31        440 
##                14.3%      17.2%     3.1%      29.3%    5.4%    2.0%      28.6%
##                 4.5%       2.0%     4.0%       3.8%    1.2%    1.8%       2.8%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1973            135        298       41        425      99      34        397 
##                 9.4%      20.9%     2.9%      29.7%    6.9%    2.4%      27.8%
##                 2.8%       2.2%     3.4%       3.6%    1.4%    2.0%       2.5%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1974            128        309       45        428     104       8        389 
##                 9.1%      21.9%     3.2%      30.3%    7.4%    0.6%      27.6%
##                 2.6%       2.3%     3.7%       3.6%    1.5%    0.5%       2.5%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1975            122        303       23        459     109      17        377 
##                 8.7%      21.5%     1.6%      32.6%    7.7%    1.2%      26.7%
##                 2.5%       2.2%     1.9%       3.9%    1.5%    1.0%       2.4%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1976             98        337       26        414     110      14        410 
##                 7.0%      23.9%     1.8%      29.4%    7.8%    1.0%      29.1%
##                 2.0%       2.5%     2.2%       3.5%    1.5%    0.8%       2.6%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1977            130        328       32        437      90      17        395 
##                 9.1%      23.0%     2.2%      30.6%    6.3%    1.2%      27.6%
##                 2.7%       2.4%     2.7%       3.7%    1.3%    1.0%       2.5%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1978            132        345       29        416     116      17        403 
##                 9.1%      23.7%     2.0%      28.5%    8.0%    1.2%      27.6%
##                 2.7%       2.6%     2.4%       3.5%    1.6%    1.0%       2.5%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1980            109        336       28        397     100      29        371 
##                 8.0%      24.5%     2.0%      29.0%    7.3%    2.1%      27.1%
##                 2.3%       2.5%     2.3%       3.3%    1.4%    1.7%       2.3%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1982            114        320       32        431     106      18        385 
##                 8.1%      22.8%     2.3%      30.7%    7.5%    1.3%      27.4%
##                 2.4%       2.4%     2.7%       3.6%    1.5%    1.1%       2.4%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1983            115        346       40        393     119      24        450 
##                 7.7%      23.3%     2.7%      26.4%    8.0%    1.6%      30.3%
##                 2.4%       2.6%     3.3%       3.3%    1.7%    1.4%       2.8%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1984            117        366       26        307     100      22        402 
##                 8.7%      27.3%     1.9%      22.9%    7.5%    1.6%      30.0%
##                 2.4%       2.7%     2.2%       2.6%    1.4%    1.3%       2.5%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1985            114        424       33        323     109      22        405 
##                 8.0%      29.7%     2.3%      22.6%    7.6%    1.5%      28.3%
##                 2.4%       3.1%     2.7%       2.7%    1.5%    1.3%       2.6%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1986            123        374       37        293     101      30        403 
##                 9.0%      27.5%     2.7%      21.5%    7.4%    2.2%      29.6%
##                 2.5%       2.8%     3.1%       2.5%    1.4%    1.8%       2.5%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1987            137        374       19        327     103      29        361 
##                10.1%      27.7%     1.4%      24.2%    7.6%    2.1%      26.7%
##                 2.8%       2.8%     1.6%       2.8%    1.4%    1.7%       2.3%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1988            116        370       30        281     114      41        401 
##                 8.6%      27.3%     2.2%      20.8%    8.4%    3.0%      29.6%
##                 2.4%       2.7%     2.5%       2.4%    1.6%    2.4%       2.5%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1989            110        371       23        335     120      33        401 
##                 7.9%      26.6%     1.7%      24.0%    8.6%    2.4%      28.8%
##                 2.3%       2.7%     1.9%       2.8%    1.7%    1.9%       2.5%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1990            105        315       26        322     106      45        335 
##                 8.4%      25.1%     2.1%      25.7%    8.5%    3.6%      26.7%
##                 2.2%       2.3%     2.2%       2.7%    1.5%    2.7%       2.1%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1991            144        409       29        295      95      25        407 
##                10.3%      29.1%     2.1%      21.0%    6.8%    1.8%      29.0%
##                 3.0%       3.0%     2.4%       2.5%    1.3%    1.5%       2.6%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1993            119        442       33        314     143      44        368 
##                 8.1%      30.2%     2.3%      21.5%    9.8%    3.0%      25.2%
##                 2.5%       3.3%     2.7%       2.6%    2.0%    2.6%       2.3%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1994            231        727       57        565     267     112        803 
##                 8.4%      26.3%     2.1%      20.5%    9.7%    4.1%      29.1%
##                 4.8%       5.4%     4.7%       4.8%    3.7%    6.6%       5.1%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1996            242        705       61        523     345     153        703 
##                 8.9%      25.8%     2.2%      19.1%   12.6%    5.6%      25.7%
##                 5.0%       5.2%     5.1%       4.4%    4.8%    9.0%       4.4%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 1998            224        671       49        458     383      77        731 
##                 8.6%      25.9%     1.9%      17.7%   14.8%    3.0%      28.2%
##                 4.6%       5.0%     4.1%       3.9%    5.4%    4.5%       4.6%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 2000            246        604       63        453     397      98        716 
##                 9.5%      23.4%     2.4%      17.6%   15.4%    3.8%      27.8%
##                 5.1%       4.5%     5.2%       3.8%    5.6%    5.8%       4.5%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 2002            210        582       41        459     379      97        700 
##                 8.5%      23.6%     1.7%      18.6%   15.4%    3.9%      28.4%
##                 4.3%       4.3%     3.4%       3.9%    5.3%    5.7%       4.4%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 2004            193        607       58        387     393     113        692 
##                 7.9%      24.8%     2.4%      15.8%   16.1%    4.6%      28.3%
##                 4.0%       4.5%     4.8%       3.3%    5.5%    6.7%       4.4%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 2006            337        901       86        599     710     128       1202 
##                 8.5%      22.7%     2.2%      15.1%   17.9%    3.2%      30.3%
##                 7.0%       6.7%     7.1%       5.1%   10.0%    7.5%       7.6%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 2008            151        386       34        262     338      62        505 
##                 8.7%      22.2%     2.0%      15.1%   19.4%    3.6%      29.1%
##                 3.1%       2.9%     2.8%       2.2%    4.7%    3.7%       3.2%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 2010            152        383       33        264     365      70        513 
##                 8.5%      21.5%     1.9%      14.8%   20.5%    3.9%      28.8%
##                 3.1%       2.8%     2.7%       2.2%    5.1%    4.1%       3.2%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 2012            127        435       29        239     388      82        477 
##                 7.1%      24.5%     1.6%      13.4%   21.8%    4.6%      26.8%
##                 2.6%       3.2%     2.4%       2.0%    5.4%    4.8%       3.0%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 2014            153        393       38        308     520      97        639 
##                 7.1%      18.3%     1.8%      14.3%   24.2%    4.5%      29.7%
##                 3.2%       2.9%     3.2%       2.6%    7.3%    5.7%       4.0%
## ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
## 2016            189        490       57        291     618     107        668 
##                 7.8%      20.2%     2.4%      12.0%   25.5%    4.4%      27.6%
##                 3.9%       3.6%     4.7%       2.5%    8.7%    6.3%       4.2%
## ==============================================================================

References

Shelton, Jason E., and Ryon J. Cobb. 2017. “Black Reltrad: Measuring Religious Diversity and Commonality Among African Americans.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 56 (4): 737–64. https://doi.org/gfgw25.
Steensland, B., L. D. Robinson, W. B. Wilcox, J. Z. Park, M. D. Regnerus, and R. D. Woodberry. 2000. “The Measure of American Religion: Toward Improving the State of the Art.” Social Forces 79 (1): 291–318. https://doi.org/db9hrh.
Stetzer, Ed, and Ryan P. Burge. 2016. “Reltrad Coding Problems and a New Repository.” Politics and Religion 9 (01): 187–90. https://doi.org/gfkc5x.
Woodberry, R. D., J. Z. Park, L. A. Kellstedt, M. D. Regnerus, and B. Steensland. 2012. “The Measure of American Religious Traditions: Theoretical and Measurement Considerations.” Social Forces 91 (1): 65–73. https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/sos121.
Avatar
David Eagle
Assistant Research Professor of Global Health