November 10, 2015

Most Americans believe in heaven … and hell

It’s natural for people to want things to turn out well in the end, both in life and, apparently, afterwards. Roughly seven-in-ten (72%) Americans say they believe in heaven — defined as a place “where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded,” according to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study.

But at the same time, 58% of U.S. adults also believe in hell — a place “where people who have led bad lives and die without being sorry are eternally punished.”

Belief in Heaven and Hell Among U.S. Adults, 2014These percentages are little changed from 2007, when Pew Research Center’s first Religious Landscape Study found that 74% of Americans believed in heaven, and 59% believed in hell.

Among religiously affiliated Americans, the belief that there is a heaven is even more widespread, with 82% holding this view, about the same as in 2007. Belief in hell has held relatively steady in this group.

Compared with non-Christians and the unaffiliated, U.S. Christians are more likely to believe in both afterlife destinations. The existence of heaven is almost universally accepted by Mormons (95%) and members of historically black Protestant denominations (93%), as well as by about eight-in-ten or more evangelical Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and mainline Protestants.

Meanwhile, 82% of evangelical Protestants and members of historically black Protestant churches say they believe in hell. Somewhat fewer Catholics, Mormons, mainline Protestants and Orthodox Christians also hold this view.

Muslims are similar to Christians in views of an afterlife, with 89% saying they believe in heaven and 76% believing in hell.

Among other non-Christians, however, beliefs that there are places of eternal reward and punishment after death are not as widely held. Roughly half or fewer of Hindus, Buddhists and Jews believe in heaven. And roughly a third or less of Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews believe in the concept of hell.

Not surprisingly, far fewer religious “nones” — a group that includes atheists, agnostics and people who say their religion is “nothing in particular” — say they believe in the existence of heaven and hell. Fewer than four-in-ten (37%) “nones” say they believe in heaven , while 27% believe in hell.

An exception are those “nones” who say religion is important to them. Their views are similar to the general public’s, with 72% professing a belief in heaven. They also are roughly twice as likely as religiously unaffiliated people in general to believe in hell (55% vs 27%).

Topics: Religious Beliefs and Practices, Death and Dying

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


  1. Sara Cecilie Kinn2 years ago

    Hey.. Hell , I belive is a symbolic … Hell mean’s something like this .. “departed from God’s Love forever.” That is Hell. No Love at all. The Bible say’s .. The Kingdom is not here or there . It is in our heart. So I think to be departed from God’s Love forever is like the meaning of the word. Kind Regard’s , .Cecilie. 😉

  2. Papa Ken2 years ago

    It amazes me that so many people can have firm opinions about these things about which there isn’t a shred of verifiable evidence. Many of them feel so strongly about it that they’ll kill others who don’t tow their line. Remarkable species, aren’t we?

  3. Wanderer2 years ago

    What’s interesting is that heaven and hell are more Muslim ideas than Christian. For Christians, when we die, we wait in the ground for the second coming and judgement day. On judgement day, the dead will rise from the grave to be judged. The bad then go to hell and Jesus makes earth a paradise and rules on earth. I wonder how many Americans believe in the Second Coming more than the Heaven Can Wait version.

    1. Philip2 years ago

      You are wrong. Christians believe that at death your soul receives a judgement of heaven or hell. Our dead bodies wait in the ground but our souls are where they chose to go. At the Second Coming our bodies are reunited with our souls as Jesus did at the Ressurrection. The belief of heaven and hell is found in the Jewish and Christian faith so I do not get your thought that it is a Muslim idea.

      1. Gerry Gentile2 years ago

        Actually, our choices are made by our minds, not an imaginary soul. When a person’s brain stops working-either because they’re in a coma or they’re brain-dead, their bodies don’t keep functioning. One would expect that if the soul is the animating force, they would continue to behave as they always have. But they don’t.

        The problem that I have with the idea of eternal consequences for the soul is that it’s like someone who is kidnapped, and locked up in the trunk of their car by a man who then goes on a killing spree. When the police free the owner of the car, the person is charged with multiple counts of murder–it’s their car, they were a “passenger” in their car, they’re equally guilty.

        No, our non-existent souls make no choices of any sort.

    2. RTJ2 years ago

      You don’t seem to realise how varied perceptions of an afterlife are among the world’s two billion Christians (to say nothing of other religious traditions). There are hundreds of sects claiming this is what Christians believe while hundreds of others say, no, this is what Christians actually believe. If your position doesn’t encompass everything that Christians say about an afterlife, you are merely promoting your own sectarian view over the assertions of other sects.

      1. Philip2 years ago

        Hear hear! That is exactly the problem with many true believers,whether they are radical jihadists or evangelical Christians. They justify stupid things, whether it is murdering those of different faiths or discriminating against gays and denying climate science and evolution. It’s sanctimonious ignorance. A recent study also found that very religious people are less tolerant of others, more judgemental and less altruistic toward the less fortunate. Cue the “social conservatives” of today’s Republican party.