Irreligion in the United States
Irreligion in the United States refers to the extent of the lack, indifference to or rejection of religious faith in the country. Based on surveys, between 8% and 15% of citizens polled demonstrate objectively nonreligious attitudes and basically naturalistic worldviews. The number of self-identified atheists and agnostics is around 4% each, while many persons formally affiliated with a religion are likewise non-believing.
18% of respondents surveyed consider themselves "neither religious nor spiritual", and another 16-27% as "spiritual but not religious". The percentage of Americans without religious affiliation, who mostly identify as "nothing in particular" and are therefore known as "Nones", is around 21%. Most of the "None"s have some and often strong religious beliefs, and 10% of all Americans are nonaffiliates who attend church six times a year and more. Social scientists argued that many "Nones" should be considered "unchurched", not being members of an organized faith at the time of being questioned, rather than objectively nonreligious.
A 2007 Barna group poll found that about 20 million people say they are atheist, have no religious faith, or are agnostic, with 5 million of that number claiming to be atheists. The study also found that "[t]hey tend to be more educated, more affluent and more likely to be male and unmarried than those with active faith" and that "only 6 percent of people over 60 have no faith in God, and one in four adults ages 18 to 22 describe themselves as having no faith."
Irreligiosity is often under-reported in American surveys; many more express lack of faith in god or have alternative views on god (e.g. deism), than those who self-identify as atheists, agnostics and the like. In 2012, 23% of religious affiliates did not consider themselves to be "religious", though this is subjective. The number of atheists and agnostics found in common surveys tends to be quite low since, for instance, according to the 2019 Pew Research Center survey they were 3.1% and 4% respectively and according to the 2014 General Social Survey they were 4% and 5% respectively. However, their self-identification and actual views on God do differ since one study observed that out of people who did not believe in God or a universal spirit, only 24% actually self-identified as "atheists" and 15% as "agnostics". In one 2018 research paper using indirect probabilistic methods with considerable uncertainty estimated that 26% of Americans are atheists, which is much higher than the 3%-11% rates that are consistently found in surveys.
A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center reported that, of the U.S. adult population, 19.6% had no religious affiliation and an additional 16% identified as "neither spiritual nor religious". Furthermore, atheists made up 2.4% and agnostics made up 3.3% of the US population. It also notes that a third of adults under the age of 30 are religiously unaffiliated. However, out of the religiously unaffiliated demographic: the majority describe themselves either as a religious (18%) or as spiritual but not religious (37%) while a significant minority (42%) considers themselves neither spiritual nor religious. Additionally, out of the unaffiliated: 68% believe in God, 12% are atheists, 17% are agnostics and overall 21% of the religiously unaffiliated pray every day.
The Pew Religious Landscape survey reported that as of 2014, 22.8% of the U.S. population is religiously unaffiliated, atheists made up 3.1% and agnostics made up 4% of the U.S. population. The 2014 General Social Survey reported that 21% of Americans had no religion with 3% being atheist and 5% being agnostic.
When asked, around a third (24%-33% in different years) answered they were "not religious", though this label is highly subjective; many of these identify/affiliate themselves with established religious groups and most believe in God. In one survey, 88% considered themselves as at least moderately spiritual. In the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) report, 15% of the US population identified as having "no religion", almost double the 1990 figure/
According to the 2014 General Social Survey the percentages of the US population that identified as no religion were 21% in 2014, 20% in 2012, just 14% in 2000, and only 8 percent in 1990. Furthermore, the number of atheists and agnostics in the US has remained relatively flat in the past 23 years since in 1991 only 2% identified as atheist and 4% identified as agnostic while in 2014 only 3% identified as atheist and 5% identified as agnostic.
According to the 2008 Pew Religious Landscape report, as 2007, 16.1% of the US population identified as "no religion", atheists made up 1.6% and agnostics made up 2.4% of the US population.
According to a 2012 Pew Report on the "Nones", 19.6% of the population identified as "no religion", atheists made up 2.4% and agnostics made up 3.3% of the US population.
The Pew Religious Landscape survey reported that as of 2014, 22.8% of the American population is religiously unaffiliated, atheists made up 3.1% and agnostics made up 4% of the US population.
A 2010 Pew Research Center study comparing Millennials to other generations showed that of those between 18–29 years old, only 3% self-identified as "atheists" and only 4% as "agnostics". Overall, 25% of Millennials were "Nones" and 74% were religiously affiliated. Though Millennials are less religious than previous generations at the same age frame, they are also much less engaged in many social institutions in general than previous generations.
Several groups promoting irreligion – including the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Camp Quest, and the Rational Response Squad – have witnessed large increases in membership numbers in recent years, and the number of nonreligious student organizations at American colleges and universities increased during the 2000s (decade). However, the growth of atheist groups is very limited and will possibly shrink due to atheists normally being non-joiners. The overwhelming majority of the nonreligious in the US do not express their convictions in any manner, and only a negligible percentage joins irreligious organizations. As such, the overwhelming majority on the nonreligious do not join secular groups. Only a very small minority of the nonreligious, around 1% to 2%, actually join these kinds of groups.
According to the American Values Atlas from PPRI, 24% of the US Population is unaffiliated with a religion in 2017.
According to a Pew study, 7% of those raised Protestant are now unaffiliated whereas 4% of those raised Catholic are now unaffiliated.
Various explanations for trends
Some of the underlying factors in the increases in people identifying as "Nones" seem to not be that significant numbers of people are dropping religion, but rather that, in recent times, it has become more socially acceptable for younger and older generations to identify as a "None" than in previous decades, when identifying as having no religion carried negative stigmas. With young people usually having lower religious observance than older people and them feeling more comfortable identifying as a "None", generational replacement factors could play a role in the increment.
Other possible driving factors may be just broader general cultural changes in the American way of life. The growth of the internet and social media has altered the sense of community and spirituality and the growth of self-focused citizenry, as opposed to community-focused citizenry, has broadly led to less civic involvement and less loyalty to many public institutions.
Other possible driving forces could be political backlash. Young adults, in particular, have turned away from organized religion because they perceive it as deeply entangled with conservative politics and some seek to distance themselves from polarized systems.
Others have suggested that delays in marriage, settling down, and having children among younger people reduces or delays the number and commitment of people participating in traditional religions or religious activities.
Younger generations as a whole have lost trust and belief in numerous institutions along with religion. For instance, Millennials, which make up about 1/3 the "Nones" demographic, tend to have less belief and trust in institutions such as the labor market, the economy, government and politics, marriage, the media, along with churches; than previous generations. The Nones tend to be more politically liberal and their growth has resulted in some increases in membership of secular organizations. However, the overwhelming majority of those without religion are not joining secular groups or even aligning with secularism.
Various beliefs and practices of the "Nones" in 2012.
|Traits||% Nones (2012)|
|Believe in God||68%|
|Consider themselves religious||18%|
|Consider themselves spiritual but not religious||37%|
|Consider themselves as neither spiritual nor religious||42%|
|Pray every day||21%|
|Pray once a month||21%|
"Nones" by state
|Rank||Jurisdiction||% "Nones" (2007)||% "Nones" (2014)|
|19||District of Columbia||18%||24%|
"Nones" by territory
Territories of the United States with percentage of population claiming no religion in 2010.
|Territories||% Nones (2010)|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||3.8% or 3.7%|
|Northern Mariana Islands||1%|
"Nones" by region
A region of the western United States known as the “Unchurched Belt” is traditionally considered to contain the highest concentration of irreligious people, although this may have been surpassed by New England.
Regions of the United States ranked by percentage of population claiming no religion in 2014.
|Region||% Nones (2014)|
Demographics of the religiously unaffiliated in 2012 (as fraction of the named groups).
More than six-in-ten religiously unaffiliated registered voters are Democrats (39%) or lean toward the Democratic Party (24%). They are about twice as likely to describe themselves as political liberals than as conservatives, and solid majorities support legal abortion (72%) and same-sex marriage (73%). In the last five years, the unaffiliated have risen from 17% to 24% of all registered voters who are Democrats or lean Democratic. According to a Pew Research exit poll 70% of those who were religiously unaffiliated voted for Barack Obama.
In January 2007, California Congressman Pete Stark became the first openly atheist member of Congress. In January 2013, Kyrsten Sinema became the first openly non-theist Congresswoman, representing the State of Arizona.
- Discrimination against atheists in the United States
- First Amendment to the United States Constitution
- Religion in the United States
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The vast majority of people — approximately 80 percent — describe themselves as both spiritual and religious. Still, a small but growing minority of Americans describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, as figure 3.4 shows. In 1998, 9 percent of Americans described themselves as at least moderately spiritual but not more than slightly religious. That number rose to 16 percent in the 2010s.
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The percentage answering 'no religion' was 21 percent in 2014, 20 percent in 2012, just 14 percent as recently as 2000, and only 8 percent in 1990." & "In 2014, 3 percent of Americans did not believe in God and 5 percent expressed an agnostic view; the comparable percentages were 2 percent and 4 percent in 1991. More people believed in a 'higher power' in 2014 (13%) than in 1991 (7%).
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All told, about two-thirds of U.S. adults (65%) describe themselves as religious (either in addition to be being spiritual or not). Nearly one-in-five say they are spiritual but not religious (18%), and about one-in-six say they are neither religious nor spiritual (15%).
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