May 13, 2015

A closer look at America’s rapidly growing religious ‘nones’

Religiously unaffiliated people have been growing as a share of all Americans for some time. Pew Research Center’s massive 2014 Religious Landscape Study makes clear just how quickly this is happening, and also shows that the trend is occurring within a variety of demographic groups – across genders, generations and racial and ethnic groups, to name a few.

Religiously UnaffiliatedReligious “nones” – a shorthand we use to refer to people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” – now make up roughly 23% of the U.S. adult population. This is a stark increase from 2007, the last time a similar Pew Research study was conducted, when 16% of Americans were “nones.” (During this same time period, Christians have fallen from 78% to 71%.)

Overall, religiously unaffiliated people are more concentrated among young adults than other age groups – 35% of Millennials (those born 1981-1996) are “nones.” In addition, the unaffiliated as a whole are getting even younger. The median age of unaffiliated adults is now 36, down from 38 in 2007 and significantly younger than the overall median age of U.S. adults in 2014 (46).

Religious Affiliation by GenerationAt the same time, even older generations have grown somewhat more unaffiliated in recent years. For example, 14% of Baby Boomers were unaffiliated in 2007, and 17% now identify as “nones.”

”Nones” have made more gains through religious switching than any other group analyzed in the study.” Only about 9% of U.S. adults say they were raised without a religious affiliation, and among this group, roughly half say that they now identify with a religion (most often Christianity). But nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) have moved in the other direction, saying that they were raised as Christians or members of another faith but that they now have no religious affiliation. That means more than four people have become “nones” for every person who has left the ranks of the unaffiliated.

Religious “Nones” are more heavily concentrated among men than women. But the growth of the unaffiliated has not been limited to certain demographic categories; a rise in the share of unaffiliated has been seen across a variety of racial and ethnic groups, among people with different levels of education and income, among immigrants and the native born, and throughout all major regions of the country.

Not only are the “nones” growing, but how they describe themselves is changing. Self-declared atheists or agnostics still make up a minority of all religious “nones.” But both atheists and agnostics are growing as a share of all religiously unaffiliated people, and together they now make up 7% of all U.S. adults (up from 4% in 2007). Nearly two-thirds of atheists and agnostics are men, and the group also tends to be whiter and more highly educated than the general population.

In addition to atheists and agnostics, another 9% of Americans say their religion is “nothing in particular” and that religion is not important in their lives. At the same time, however, a significant minority of “nones” say that religion plays a role in their lives. Indeed, about 7% of U.S. adults say their religion is “nothing in particular” but also say that religion is “very” or “somewhat” important in their lives, despite their lack of a formal affiliation. This group is more racially and ethnically diverse than other “nones”; only 53% are non-Hispanic whites (compared with 66% of the general public).

Topics: Religion and Society, Religious Affiliation, Religious Beliefs and Practices, Religiously Unaffiliated

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

46 Comments

  1. Shelley Brook Gibson3 months ago

    Come on! You had me until you clumped me (a woman born in 1980 with a computer since I was 12, video games since I could hold a conversation, and my entire formal education in an internet driven society) with someone born in 1965. Really? Yet you had the insight to split the millennials. That one oversight made your piece tl;dr.

  2. Donald Engel7 months ago

    When we look at the three largest religions in the world, we have to realize they are all based on the same god. The followers of each religion are serious, and devoted to God in the way they think God wants them to be. Now think of all the millions of people who have died in religious wars amongst these three religions. On 9/11 3,000 people died in one episode. 14 more died in San Bernardino about two weeks ago in another episode. If there is a God, as explained in the Bible, why doesn’t He come down and light the burning bush again, and explain how it is that he wants us to adore him? Since he doesn’t, we are left with two choices: Either He doesn’t exist, or He is extremely sadistic.

    1. Richard Eng4 months ago

      Excuse me, but the third largest religion in the world is Hinduism. Its gods are not the same as the God of Abraham. Buddhism is the world’s fourth largest religion and it doesn’t have a god at all.

  3. emmabakunin18 months ago

    America may finally be joining the rest of the developed world.

  4. Tommygrimes9 months ago

    The Bible says these things will happen
    2Thessalonians
    3:let no one deceive you by any means; for that day will not come unless the [Falling Away Comes Frist,]and the man of sin is revealed the son of perdition who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God (Elohim)or that is worships,
    Amos8:11-12
    Behold the days are coming says the Lord God that I will send a famine on the land not a famine of bread nor a thirst for water (H2O)but of hearing the words(The Ever Lasting Water)of the Lord God word is true and It will and shall stand the Test of Time

    1. Anonymous2 months ago

      So? The bible also says animals talk and virgins have babies. Why should we care what a bible says?

  5. ralph ellis9 months ago

    .
    Jesus may have existed, but he was not quite the character that Christians assume. This article equates the history of the biblical (King) Jesus Em-Manuel with the history of King Izas Manu of Edessa. They appear to be one and the same monarchs:

    academia.edu/9436622/Jesus_was_a…

    According to Josephus Flavius, King Izas Manu of Edessa lost the Jewish Revolt to the Romans. He was then crucified in the Kidron valley alongside two other revolutionaries, but was reprieved and taken down from the cross by Josephus Flavius (Life 75 or 420). Two of the three died, while one survived. Familliar story? Was Josephus Flavius called Josephus of Arimathaea?

    Readers may contend that this event is 40 years too late. But if you study the gospels you will see that Jesus: lamented the death of Zacharias (in the AD 60s); condemned Ben Zizit Hakeseth for his ostentatiousness (in the AD 60s); became high priest of Jerusalem (Hebrews 7) (in the early AD 60s); went secretly to a feast (John 7:1-12) that the Talmud says happened in the AD 60s; and lamented the Roman’s destruction of Jerusalem (in AD 70).

    If you look for the Jesus in the AD 30s you will jot find such a character, because he was an AD 60s prince and king. This chronological dislocation was made deliberately by Saul-Paul, the author of many of these texts, to hide his new Jesus fable from the real Jesus history.

    Ralph

  6. Anthony McCarthy10 months ago

    The category “Nones” was created by Barry Kosmin who is active in the promotion of atheism through groups such as CFI, a group that spends a lot more time bashing religion than it does promoting anything positive about atheism. It is one of the worst cases of inventing a category and selling it as if it were an actual “thing” when it is clearly not even a coherent category. His stated reason for its creation was so that they wouldn’t have to the call non-affiliated minority in his surveys “non-affiliated” because it implied that religious affiliation was the norm in the United States. There is a good reason for that implication, because that’s what his surveys showed. “non-affiliated” is an actual and accurate description for the various groups of people covered by “Nones” it is actually more accurate and less ambiguous.

    That polling and survey organizations use it so often calls the alleged “scientific” nature of the enterprise into question.

    1. Jenny9 months ago

      I agree that it would be helpful to have more specific categories, at the very least such as: Religious – Unaffiliated, Nonreligious, Atheist, Agnostic, Humanist – Religious, Humanist – Secular, Ethical Culture, Bright, Freethinker, and Skeptic.

      Without specificity, we’ll never have clarity about who we are as a population.

  7. Eddie11 months ago

    In my very short life I’ve learned that God is infinitely complex yet profoundly simple and in the end, people believe what they want to believe, simply because they want to believe it. Many also believe that all roads lead to God, but what if you are on the wrong road? Eternity is too long to be wrong. Jesus said in his very own words…”I am the Way, the Truth and the Life…no one comes to the Father accept through me…”

  8. rick denbleyker1 year ago

    all predicted in the Bible. just another proof of a living God (creation is another proof). The reason humanity searches for some type of God (we all have them, whether it is food, drugs, sex, etc). is because we were designed by the one true Creator to desire a relationship with him. Do your research, but i’ll give you a hint: detailed prophecy predicted hundreds of years in advance that comes true is your evidence of a Divine Being.

    1. Nate L.12 months ago

      What detailed prophecy would that be? Having read the entire Bible, I can tell you that the closest thing to a prediction of these statistics is the constantly-repeated prediction that people will generally become more and more wicked until God destroys the world. Exactly the kind of doomsday prophecy needed to keep primitive Bronze Age societies in line, but not exactly the kind of detailed prediction necessary to constitute scientific proof of supernatural powers.

  9. Joel Frese1 year ago

    I live in Indiana where we’re sometimes under the Christian Sharia law. It’s difficult sometimes having family reunions or just meeting new people because you just never know when religious dogma is going to show it’s ugly, dark side. I think once ever 2-3 weeks somebody at work, a customer for example, will begin to pontificate about God or Jesus completely off topic. I was talking about the Mar Curiosity once and a man had to chime in about God. Another time, some woman ranted about how evil wind power and cultural diversity was! What?? Wow. It was too much. Needless to say, the girlfriend and I have decided to move after graduation. I like Indiana and folks are almost always nice here but wow, stop with all the fairy tale religion stuff please.

  10. duane kulton1 year ago

    If you ask any young mother how long she will love her baby she will say forever.No time limit.If your an atheist you have to say she is lying herself. I believe the reason we have so many religions is deep down we want life to have a deeper meaning and not be ultimately meaningless.I think it would be very sad if that young mother was lying to herself.

    1. KDH1 year ago

      I don’t have children yet, but I already know that when I do, I will love them forever. My forever… the length of time after their birth that I continue to think and recall their existence. When I no longer exist, I won’t be able to love them anymore. Wishing I could will not change this. Knowing I cannot does not make my life feel sad or meaningless. I’m still invested in making life awesome, and supporting the hopes and dreams of my children, making sure they’re happy, well-adjusted adults before I’m no longer around to guide and support them. That’s all that matters.

      1. Arlene9 months ago

        I started question god/religion after we had our children. I was raised in the Church of Christ by very religious Grandparents.

        I cannot believe in or worship and God that claims to love all of his children equally and let’s so many suffer. Then expects them to worship and love him unconditionally!

        1. VA Duncan3 months ago

          You’re a smart woman Arlene.

      2. Skip Pierce8 months ago

        And what, in your estimation, is the core reason they should be happy, well adjusted adults?

    2. Conrad9 months ago

      As an atheist, my response would be, “What kind of question is that?” As for your comment, I cannot imagine how you imagine that you have any idea of how an atheist might respond to such a silly question, or that all atheists would respond in the same way.

  11. Tom1 year ago

    I continue to be bothered by the question of whether or not religion is “important” in one’s life. Those who are themselves religious probably always interpret this to mean “is your own religion important in your life,” but those of us who are not religious are left in a quandry. Does the question mean (for us) “is your personal disbelief in any religion important in your life” or should it instead be answered based on “is religion in general an important factor in your life.” As an atheist, I would have to answer “yes” with either interpretation of the question. My atheism is an important aspect of who I am, so it is important . . . and the religion of others is an important cause of (in my opinion) much of the suffering in the world (and specifically it is an important cause of the persecution of gays, of which I am one.)

    I have to wonder how many others among the “unaffiliated” are answering the question with one of these meanings, rather than the implication that they actually have a “religion” that they practice in spite of being “unaffiliated.”

    1. Ochre Danny1 year ago

      I think people who are religious believe that atheists lack spirituality, therefore they lack enlightenment and understanding. Religion and spirituality are separate things, even while they coexist together often. And religion also offers individuals a “stamp” stating their belief and values systems, whereas athiests cannot do the same, as we have no community to necessarily represent our beliefs. I think the conversation needs to change, and we should be allowed to freely state our belief system without being misrepresented in a religious individual’s eyes.

  12. Peter P1 year ago

    It’s very annoying that these articles continue to use the insulting term, ‘Baby Boomers’

  13. Pauline Hershey1 year ago

    It would be interesting to poll these same people, regarding the term “spiritual” as opposed to religious, given that the terms religious and spiritual have very different meanings to individuals. I believe we have entered an age where many individuals no longer box God into one particular “brand” on another.

    I believe the reason it is important to look at this term, is that without a better understanding of this subset, one would think that as a society, the notion of faith is declining.

    For example, I may have turned away from many of the trappings of the RELIGION of Christianity, but identify with many of its fundamental messages. I feel this study misses a large population of “seekers” who are uncomfortable with the labels, but who still believe in a higher power / creator / love. – Peace Out.

    1. Aman Sandhu1 year ago

      It doesn’t miss the “seekers” but yes it somewhat inaccurately lumps them with the religious. I agree with your comment in general though.

  14. Al Tweedy1 year ago

    When speaking of non-religious people throughout the world they are usually referred to as “secular” rather than “nones”.

    I feel that this is a much more accurate term.

    “Nones” to me conjures up images of old women in black gowns with black and white hats.

  15. Walter Fox1 year ago

    If one had taken a survey of Baby Boomers religious affiliations 40 years ago, I think the same numbers would have been found. I believe especially in the past 20 years there was a religious revival among Baby boomer.

    1. A freethinker1 year ago

      Such surveys were taken. Your assumption is incorrect. So is your belief about a “religious revival” among Boomers. Check the evidence for yourself (it’s freely available online, as are, more relevantly, trend lines showing changes over time), and reconsider your assumptions and your belief.

  16. Scraps dog1 year ago

    We have more things today with which to be occupied. Having a relationship, with God or anyone, requires time and effort and many now choose to devote their attention to distractions that offer more immediate gratification. Doubt and skepticism is natural; can human beings comprehend God? One can only claim to be an atheist who has studied and struggled and wrestled, reached out and sought after knowledge of God and then abandoned the search. Most self-proclaimed nonbelievers today are not atheists but apatheists, people who use atheism as an excuse for sleeping in on Sunday mornings.

    1. MBT1 year ago

      You say, “Most self-proclaimed nonbelievers today are not atheists but apatheists, people who use atheism as an excuse for sleeping in on Sunday mornings.”

      This is an interesting observation. What evidence do you have that apatheists comprise over 50% of self-proclaimed non-believers.

    2. Shaun1 year ago

      Are you serious? Most atheists are brilliant people who actually question and seek answers. Coming to the realization that there is no “GOD” is not something a lazy person comes up with. A lazy person will just follow the sheep like yourself and pay tithing to corporations while talking to invisible characters that make you feel good and moral.

    3. Actaeon1 year ago

      No, we don’t have to study, struggle and wrestle with the notion of god to become an atheist; You are taking the theistic point of view for lack of imagination I suppose (compare it to believers who do not consider the non-existence of god to become believers)

    4. Tom1 year ago

      I wonder: did you struggle and wrestle with Islam before you decided to be a non-Muslim? Perhaps you can’t honestly claim to be a non-Muslim, you are just looking for an excuse to avoid facing Mecca and praying 5 times a day to Allah!

  17. Mutakallim1 year ago

    If the Muslims in America will change their attitude and obey Muhammad during their daily prayers, they will attract all the nones to follow the actions and practice of Muhammad Rasulullah. No one hates Islam, but the behavior and actions of his followers. This starts from prayers.

  18. SSMITH1 year ago

    it amazes me how many people turn to spirituality when bad things happen. Where there is good there is also evil. “Chose you this day whom you will serve – as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.

    1. Philip Rivers1 year ago

      You are kidding, right? Why would an atheist turn to fantasy when things get bad. I never do. I take the bad with the good like an adult. There are atheists in foxholes. Prayers don’t work. It is much more adult to develop a plan to deal with the bad than to talk to a fantasy in my head.

  19. Sid Kass1 year ago

    As more Americans become more educated and have courses on critical thinking, they come to realize that the existence of God and a supernatural realm is very unlikely. Since reward or punishment meted out by the unseen realm does not happen, it is a waste of time to pray in church and a waste of materials to burn candle wax. Formal prayer can be well replaced by meditation, exercise, psychotherapy, etc., etc.

    1. john1 year ago

      So say you. I have Gods grace and mercy. Whether you see or don’t is irrelevant. Funny….you never seen a big meteor hit the earth…but I’m sure you believe they have…the proof is in the tale of the earth’s ground. But because you have never felt or seen Christ…you don’t believe. But lo! Every historical ancient account found by archeologist lends credence to historical fact. Shoot….even the memoirs of dead soldiers are construed as fact. Just not the very telling gospels right? Just not those. You will never know because without the spirit God is unintelligible to you. Christ is an affront to you because in order to comprehend him you have to admit to sin, know forgiveness, and acknowledge that you don’t know, that science doesn’t know. For just as science “knew” the earth was flat and the great minds of the time agreed, so it was fact. Even though it was not. Same thing in tho instance. You are like a person who has never felt the warmth of the sun. And because you haven’t, and you can proverbially find others who have not….you all agree that because such warmth has never touched you….then it must not be real; despite the millions of others who tell you they have. Despite the historical accounts which to suit your conclusions you choose to ignore. Truly educated people, secure in their intellect have these things in common: Ability to acknowledge oversight or error, willingness to admit that just because science can’t prove or disprove does not mean it should or shouldn’t nor is the knowledge of what is known now all encompassing or even close to a fraction of universal understanding. There have been miracles told of, seen, and lived by millions throughout history which science cannot explain nor has to. Yet your “educated” self simply dismisses such things as fallacy? Agnostics and atheist deny religion yet make their own based on a “faith” of what must be certain in science even though science has yet, nor in my mind even Can unequivocally prove or disprove God. Yet the testimony of millions throughout the millennia’s leads credence to just that: Unequivocal proof that God is beyond science,reason, and understanding as mankind understands such things. I’ll do the most powerful act known to man tonight on your behalf: Pray that your eyes open.

      1. Tom1 year ago

        Your post is utter silliness. You (falsely) claim that atheists disbelieve in your particular “God” because we “haven’t seen”. But in fact, my disbelief is because I HAVE seen . . . I have seen how gods and angels and devils are invented by humans to explain things they otherwise don’t understand, and how those beliefs are passed down to further generations through various forms of indoctrination. I find the Bible — at least in its descriptions of gods and other supernatural beings and events — to be no more credible than the “holy writings” of any other religion.

      2. Davey Schmidt1 year ago

        “Every historical ancient account found by archeologist lends credence to historical fact.” Not true. Read “The Bible Unearthed” by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman.

      3. Nate L.12 months ago

        I’d just like to point out that it wasn’t the scientific community that claimed during the Middle Ages that the Earth was flat. It was the Catholic church, because the Bible told them it was. The Church imprisoned many scientists for even questioning this “fact”.

    2. Atheist Scientist1 year ago

      I think less religious fervor is a step in the right direction for mankind. It will be one less thing for us to classify people as “us” or “them”. When you remove arbitrary labels, you realize how similar we all are.

      I was raised as a catholic by my family, without any say on my part. Around the age of 12 or 13 I became skeptical. My skepticism multiplied once I majored in the sciences. I worked in laboratories and helped do brain research.

      Now I look back and I am disappointed that my parents didn’t let me choose my path. They tried to brainwash me.

      It seems silly to think there’s ONE religion when thousands exist. All religious texts were created and translated by men. God’s “creator” is the human brain. Humankind isn’t special. Earth is one of billions of little floating rocks in space.

    3. Helen Anderson1 year ago

      You may not feel this way when Jesus comes.I would rather believe that he exists than not.What are you afraid of.Any intelligent person that sees the ocean,or watches the sunset or sunrise,
      looks at the moutains,looks at all of God’s creatures,or just how complex the human body. Still deny that there is a God isn’what I call intelligent!!!!

      1. mancott1 year ago

        Helen,

        You can only say what you do because of your prior knowledge of God (or the bible).
        If you had no knowledge of God and nobody around you had a knowledge of God, then you would look at oceans, mountains, complex flora and fauna, and you would as an intelligent person try to fathom out how they came about. God wouldn`t come into your findings.

  20. Tex Berry1 year ago

    According to the above chart, I am one of the Silent Generation. My mother tried to raise me Catholic. But even at age 6, I was skeptical about religion.

  21. Edd Doerr1 year ago

    While the “nones” have been increasing in numbers, exit polls from last November show that only 12% of voters were “nones”. The question is — Why? — Edd Doerr (arlinc.org)

    1. Ben M1 year ago

      The Total Population =/= The Voting Population

      The Voting Population tends to skew older and more conservative. Therefore, it makes sense they’d also be more religious than the population as a whole.