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Irreligion in the United States

Irreligious Americans
Total population
Population in the United States:
Not religious or spiritual: 15%[1]
Unaffiliated: 22.8%[2]
Pew Research Center, 2012 and 2015
Regions with significant populations
New England region, Western United States
(including agnosticism, atheism, deism, skepticism, freethought/freethinker, secular humanism, ignosticism, apatheism, Nonbeliever, nontheism, rationalism)

Encompassing at least agnosticism, atheism, deism,[1] secular humanism, and general secularism,[4] Americans without a religious affiliation represent about 20% or more of the population.[1][2][5] and since the early 1990s, independent polls have shown their rapid growth.[6][7]

Unaffiliated Americans are sometimes referred to as "Nones".[7][8][9] Though having no religion and not seeking religion they have diverse views: 68% believe in God, 12% are atheists, 17% are agnostics; 18% consider themselves religious, 37% consider themselves as spiritual but not religious, and 42% considers themselves as neither spiritual or religious; and 21% pray every day and 24% pray once a month.[7][10]

According to Pew Research Center, in 2014, 22.8% of the American population does not identify with a religion, including atheists (3.1%) and agnostics (4%).[2] According to the 2014 General Sociological Survey, 21% of the American population does not identify with a religion; furthermore, the number of atheists and agnostics in the U.S. has remained relatively flat in the past 23 years. In 1991, only 2% identified as atheist, and 4% identified as agnostic. In 2014, only 3% identified as atheists, and 5% identified as agnostics.[11] 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.[12]


  • Demographics 1
    • Inaccuracy of religious self-identification 1.1
  • Growth 2
  • Tables 3
  • Studies on irreligion 4
  • Irreligion in politics 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • Bibliography 9
  • External links 10


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."[13]

A 2008 Gallup survey reported that religion is not an important part of daily life for 34% of Americans.[5] In May of that year, a Gallup poll asking the question "Which of the following statements comes closest to your belief about God: you believe in God, you don't believe in God but you do believe in a universal spirit or higher power, or you don't believe in either?" showed that, nationally, 78% believed in God, 15% in "a universal spirit or higher power", 6% answering "neither", and 1% unsure. The poll also highlighted the regional differences, with residents in the Western states answering 59%, 29%, and 10% respectively, compared to the residents in the Southern states that answered 86%, 10%, and 3%.[14] Several of the western states have been informally nicknamed Unchurched Belt, contrasting with the Bible Belt in the southern states.

A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center reported that, of the U.S. adult population, 19.6% had no religious affiliation and only 15% identified as "neither spiritual nor religious".[15][16] Furthermore, atheists made up 2.4% and agnostics made up 3.3% of the US population.[7] 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 or religious.[7] 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.[7]

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.[2] The 2014 General Social Survey reported that 21% of American had no religion with 3% being atheist and 5% being agnostic.

Inaccuracy of religious self-identification

The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) found a difference between how people identify and what people believe. While only 0.7% of U.S. adults identified as atheist, 2.3% said there is no such thing as a god. Only 0.9% identified as agnostic, but 10.0% said there is either no way to know if a god exists or they weren't sure. Another 12.1% said there is a higher power but no personal god. In total, only 15.0% identified as Nones or No Religion, but 24.4% did not believe in the traditional concept of a personal god. The conductors of the study concluded, "The historic reluctance of Americans to self-identify in this manner or use these terms seems to have diminished. Nevertheless ... the level of under-reporting of these theological labels is still significant ... many millions do not subscribe fully to the theology of the groups with which they identify."[6]

Similarly, the 2012 Pew study reported that 23% of Americans who affiliated with a religion were not religious. The religiously affiliated were 79% of the population, and the unaffiliated were 19.6%, including 6% "atheist" or "agnostic".[1][16]


In 1776, only 17% of the US population was religiously involved in America and by 2000, the amount of people who were religiously involved had actually increased gradually to 62%.[17]

According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) report, in 1990 only 8.2% of the US population identified as "no religion", atheists were not detectable, and agnostics made up .7% of the US population. By 2001, 14.1% of the US population identified as "no religion", atheists made up .4% and agnostics made up .5% of the US population. By 2008, 15% of the US population identified as "no religion", atheists made up .7% and agnostics made up .9% of the US population.[6]

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.[11]

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.[18]

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.[7]

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.[2]

The General Sociological Survey reported that as of 2014, 21% of the American population does not identify with a religion, including 3% identifying as atheists and 5% identifying as agnostics (5%).[11]

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.[19] 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.[16]

Several groups promoting secularist beliefs or opposing religious faith altogether – including the [12] Phil Zuckerman notes that the overwhelming majority of the nonreligious in the US are not identifying with secular movements or secularism or secular beliefs and instead live basic mundane lives without much thought of the secular.[12] 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.[12]

When looking at countries which have high levels of atheism such as Scandinavian nations, atheist organizations there generally have very low membership and only those that have links to a political party or offer legalized rituals have some noticeable membership.[21]


The percentage of people in North America who identify with a religion as opposed to having "no religion" (2001 US) (1991,98,99 CA).

The states of the U.S., Washington D.C., and territories ranked by percentage of population claiming no religion in 2008 is as follows:[6][22]

"Nones" by US State (2014)
Rank Jurisdiction % "Nones" (2008) % "Nones" (2014)[2]
- United States 15% 22.8%
01 Vermont 34% 37%
02 New Hampshire 29% 36%
03 Wyoming 28% 26%
04 Alaska 27% 31%
05 Maine 25% 31%
06 Washington 25% 32%
07 Nevada 24% 28%
08 Oregon 24% 31%
09 Delaware 23% 23%
10 Idaho 23% 27%
11 Massachusetts 22% 32%
12 Colorado 21% 29%
13 Montana 21% 30%
14 Rhode Island 19% 20%
15 California 18% 27%
16 Hawaii 18% 26%
17 Washington D.C. 18% 24%
18 Arizona 17% 27%
19 Nebraska 17% 20%
20 Ohio 17% 22%
21 Michigan 16% 24%
22 New Mexico 16% 21%
23 Indiana 15% 26%
24 Iowa 15% 21%
25 New Jersey 15% 18%
26 Pennsylvania 15% 21%
27 Virginia 15% 20%
28 West Virginia 15% 18%
29 Wisconsin 15% 25%
30 Connecticut 14% 23%
31 Florida 14% 24%
32 Missouri 14% 20%
33 New York 14% 27%
34 Utah 14% 22%
35 Illinois 13% 22%
36 Kentucky 13% 22%
37 Minnesota 12% 20%
38 South Dakota 12% 18%
39 Texas 12% 18%
40 Alabama 11% 12%
41 Kansas 11% 20%
42 Maryland 11% 23%
43 Oklahoma 11% 18%
44 North Carolina 10% 20%
45 South Carolina 10% 19%
46 Georgia 9% 18%
47 Tennessee 9% 14%
48 Arkansas 8% 18%
49 Louisiana 8% 13%
50 North Dakota 7% 20%
51 American Samoa[23] 5%
52 Mississippi 5% 14%
53 U.S. Virgin Islands[24] 4%
54 Guam[25] 2.5%
55 Puerto Rico 2%
56 Northern Mariana Islands[26] 1%
Regions of the United States ranked by percentage of population claiming no religion in 2014.
Region % Nones (2014)[2]
West 28%
Midwest 22%
South 19%
Northeast 25%

Demographics of the religiously unaffiliated in 2012.

Race % Unaffiliated[7]
White 20%
Hispanic 16%
Black 15%
Gender % Unaffiliated
Men 23%
Women 17%
Generation % Unaffiliated
Younger Millennials 34%
Older Millennials 30%
GenXers 21%
Boomers 15%
Silent 9%
Greatest 5%

Studies on irreligion

A comprehensive study by David Campbell and

  • None of the above: the growth of the “non-religious”, Derek Michaud (2009)

External links


  1. ^ a b c d
  2. ^ a b c d e f g
  3. ^ Schultz, Jeffrey et al. Encyclopedia of Religion in American Politics, p. 73 (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999).
  4. ^ Kosmin, Barry et al. American Religious Identification Survey, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (2001). Accessed 2013-09-26.
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ a b c d Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, [1], March 2009, American Religious Identification Survey [ARIS 2008], Trinity College.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c
  12. ^ a b c d
  13. ^ a b Salmon, Jacqueline. "In America, Nonbelievers Find Strength in Numbers", Washington Post (September 15, 2007).
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b c
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Barry A. Kosmin, Ariela Keysar, et al., American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population, Trinity College.
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ a b
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ Edgell, Penny. 2003. "In Rhetoric and Practice: Defining ‘The Good Family’ in Local Congregations." pp. 164–78 In Handbook of the Sociology of Religion, edited by Michele Dillon, Cambridge University Press.
  34. ^ Religion and Public Life Survey. 2002. opinion of atheists (last accessed 2013-05-14).
  35. ^ Religion and Public Life Survey. 2002. Opinion of non-religious people (last accessed 2013-05-14).
  36. ^ CNN Exit polls
  37. ^
  38. ^ An inaugural first: Obama acknowledges 'non-believers'
  39. ^


  1. ^ While religious in the sense of acquiring "a knowledge of the Creator through reason alone", deists promote secularism and are not part of any organized religion.[3]


See also

The 2012 study by the Pew Research Center reported that unaffiliated Americans say by a margin of 39% that churches should keep out of political matters. Affiliated Americans agree by a margin of 7%.[1]

have previously acknowledged non-believers in different speeches. [39] On January 20, 2009,

In January 2007, California Congressman Pete Stark became the first openly atheist member of Congress. He described himself as "a Unitarian who does not believe in a Supreme Being." In January 2013, Kyrsten Sinema became the first openly non-theist Congresswoman, representing the State of Arizona. Although she "believes the terms ‘nontheist,’ ‘atheist’ or ‘nonbeliever’ are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character," she does believe in a secular approach to government. Her unbelief "was not used to slander her as un-American or suggest that she was unfit for office."[37]

According to exit polls in the 2008 presidential election, 71% of non-religious whites voted for Democratic candidate Barack Obama while 74% of white Evangelical Christians voted for Republican candidate John McCain. This can be compared with the 43–55% share of white votes overall.[36] 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.[7] According to a Pew Research exit poll 70% of those who were religiously unaffiliated voted for Barack Obama.

Irreligion in politics

The American public at large has a positive view of nonreligious people but a negative view of atheists. One "extensive study of how Americans view various minority groups", found that "atheists are at the top of the list of groups that Americans find problematic."[33] A Religion and Public Life Survey (2002) found that 54 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of atheists,[34] but the favorability of people who are "not religious" is 52.2%, with a net difference of 23.8%.[35]

Alan Cooperman of Pew Research Center notes that nonreligious Americans commonly grew up in a religious tradition and consciously lost it "after a great deal of reflection and study".[30] As a result, atheists and agnostics are more knowledgeable about religion than those who identify with most major religions, according to a 2010 Pew survey.[31][32]

Being less religious is moderately correlated with increased life expectancy and decreased teenage pregnancy.[29]

[28] The study also found that religious Americans are less tolerant than secular Americans of free speech, dissent, and several other measures of tolerance.[28][27]

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