Growing shares of Americans believe that a person’s gender is determined by their sex assigned at birth, according to a new Pew Research Center survey, which finds major differences by religion on this question and others about transgender issues.
For example, a majority of White evangelical Protestants say society has gone too far in accepting people who are transgender, while religiously unaffiliated Americans are far more likely to say society has not gone far enough.
Pew Research Center conducted this analysis to better understand Americans’ views about gender identity and people who are transgender or nonbinary – and how these views intersect with religion. These findings are part of a larger project that includes findings from six focus groups on the experiences and views of transgender and nonbinary adults and estimates of the share of U.S. adults who say their gender is different from the sex they were assigned at birth.
This analysis is based on a survey of 10,188 U.S. adults. The data was collected as a part of a larger survey conducted May 16-22, 2022. Everyone who took part is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way, nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.
Among U.S. adults overall, six-in-ten now say that whether a person is a man or a woman is determined by their sex assigned at birth. This figure is even higher among White evangelicals (87%) and Black Protestants (70%). Among Catholics, the share who say a person’s gender cannot differ from sex at birth has risen from 52% in 2021 to 62% this year.
By contrast, a majority of religiously unaffiliated Americans (58%) say a person’s gender can be different from their sex assigned at birth, with atheists (76%) and agnostics (67%) especially likely to hold this view. The survey was conducted among Americans of all religious backgrounds, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. But it did not obtain enough respondents from non-Christian religious groups to report separately on their responses.
Like the public as a whole, White evangelicals appear to have become more personally familiar with transgender people in recent years, according to the survey. About four-in-ten in this group (39%) say they know someone who is transgender, up from 33% last year and 25% in 2017. Over the same period, the share of White evangelicals who say society has gone too far in accepting people who are transgender increased from 61% in 2017 to 68% today.
In fact, White evangelicals are the only religious group analyzed in which a majority say that society has gone too far in accepting transgender people. Members of other Christian traditions – including White non-evangelical Protestants, Black Protestants and Catholics – are more divided over whether society has gone too far, not far enough, or been “about right” in accepting transgender people.
Religiously unaffiliated Americans are the only group in which half or more (53%) say society has not gone far enough in accepting people who are transgender, including 71% of atheists and 65% of agnostics who take this view.
Most White evangelical Protestants (71%) say that views about transgender issues and people who don’t identify as a man or a woman are changing too quickly. Half or fewer of other Christians and roughly three-in-ten religious “nones” share this perspective.
Some of these differences in opinion reflect the partisan affiliations or age profiles of particular religious groups. For example, White evangelicals are a heavily Republican group, while religious “nones” are heavily Democratic; overall, Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to say that society has gone too far in accepting people who are transgender. Likewise, younger people account for a relatively large share of religiously unaffiliated adults and are more likely to believe that society has not gone far enough in accepting transgender people.
But when asked directly, six-in-ten White evangelical Protestants say their religious views have influenced their perspective about whether someone’s gender can be different from their sex assigned at birth at least “a fair amount,” including half who say their religion has had “a great deal” of influence on their views toward gender and sex. Among Catholics and White Protestants who are not evangelical, by comparison, just 14% say their religion has a great deal of influence on their opinions in this area.
Eight-in-ten religiously unaffiliated Americans, meanwhile, say religion has no influence at all on their views toward gender and sex.
Views on government policies toward transgender people
The survey also asked respondents for their views on several specific policy questions regarding transgender people. Opinions on these questions closely track broader views about gender and sex.
For example, about seven-in-ten White evangelical Protestants say they favor policies that would require transgender individuals to use public bathrooms that match the sex they were assigned at birth (68%) – not the gender they identify with – as well as policies that would make it illegal for public schools to teach about gender identity in elementary school (69%). About half of White Protestants who are not evangelical favor each of these policies (48% and 49%, respectively), while support among Catholics, Black Protestants and religiously unaffiliated Americans tends to be lower.
There is more support across the board for policies that would require transgender athletes to compete on teams that match their sex assigned at birth (rather than their gender identity), but again, White evangelicals are more likely than other Christians to support such policies, while religious “nones” are less supportive.
The same pattern is apparent in views toward nonbinary people – that is, those who don’t identify as a man or a woman. For instance, most U.S. Christians – including 81% of White evangelicals, 67% of White Protestants who are not evangelical and 64% of Catholics – say government documents should not include options other than “male” and “female” for people who don’t identify as either.
Religiously unaffiliated Americans are more divided on this question, with 52% in favor of an alternate gender option and 47% against it. Among atheists and agnostics, specifically, clear majorities (70% and 60%) say government documents should have a gender option other than “male” and “female.”