October 9, 2012

“Nones” on the Rise

Demographics

The religiously unaffiliated population is younger, more heavily male and more likely to be single than the general public as a whole. About a third of unaffiliated adults (35%) are under age 30, compared with about one-in-five adults in the general population (22%). A higher percentage of the unaffiliated population is made up of men (56%) than women (44%), while the general public is 48% male and 52% female. Religiously unaffiliated Americans are more likely than U.S. adults as a whole to be living with a partner or never married. About four-in-ten of the unaffiliated are married (39%), compared with about half of the general public (51%). On average, however, the education and income levels of the unaffiliated are roughly the same as those in the general public.

Age

The religiously unaffiliated are relatively young compared with the general public. About seven-in-ten people who describe themselves as unaffiliated are under age 50 (72%), compared with 56% of the general public as a whole. And 35% of the unaffiliated are 18 to 29 years old, compared with 22% of the general public and 18% of U.S. adults who have a religious affiliation. Conversely, 8% of the unaffiliated are 65 and older, compared with 18% of the general public and 19% of those with a religious affiliation.

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Among the unaffiliated, atheists and agnostics are particularly young in comparison with other religious groups. A plurality of atheists and agnostics (42%) are ages 18 to 29, and just 9% are 65 and older. By comparison, about one-fifth of the religiously affiliated (18%) are ages 18 to 29, and a similar portion are 65 and older (19%).

Socioeconomic Status

As a group, the unaffiliated are roughly similar to the general public on education and income. Among the unaffiliated, however, atheists and agnostics stand out from those who say their religion is “nothing in particular.”

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About three-in-ten of the religiously unaffiliated have at least a college degree (31%), slightly higher than among the general public overall (28%). And the annual family income of the unaffiliated as a whole roughly matches that of the general public.

Atheists and agnostics, however, are higher on these socioeconomic measures than other unaffiliated Americans and the general public. Fully 44% of atheists and agnostics have at least a college degree, compared with 26% of those who say their religion is ”nothing in particular” and 28% of the general public. And about 38% of atheists and agnostics have an annual family income of at least $75,000, compared with 29% of the general public. Those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” line up more closely with the general public on family income levels.

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Race and Ethnicity

When compared with those who are religiously affiliated, the unaffiliated population contains a slightly larger percentage of non-Hispanic whites (71% of the unaffiliated vs. 68% of the religiously affiliated). Non-Hispanic blacks make up a slightly smaller share of the unaffiliated (9%) than they do of the religiously affiliated (12%). Hispanics make up 11% of the unaffiliated, compared with 14% of the religiously affiliated.

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Atheists and agnostics are particularly likely to be non-Hispanic whites. Fully eight-in-ten atheists and agnostics (82%) are white, 3% are black, 6% are Hispanic, and the remainder is of some other race or of mixed race. Those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” have a racial and ethnic distribution that closely mirrors that of the general public.

Gender

The unaffiliated population is more male than the general public. Among the unaffiliated as a whole, 56% are men and 44% are women. Among the general public overall, 48% are men and 52% are women.

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Atheists and agnostics are much more likely to be male (64%) than female (36%). Americans who identify their religion as “nothing in particular” are more evenly divided: 53% are men, and 47% are women.

Those who are affiliated with a religion, by contrast, are somewhat more likely to be women (53%) than men (47%).

Region

Compared with the general public, the religiously unaffiliated are somewhat more concentrated in the Western U.S. (30% among the unaffiliated vs. 23% among the general public) and less concentrated in the South (28% vs. 37%).

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Protestants, particularly white evangelical and black Protestants, are particularly likely to live in the South.

Compared with Protestants, Catholics are distributed more evenly across the four regions of the country.

Marital Status

About four-in-ten of the religiously unaffiliated are married (39%), compared with about half of the general public (51%).

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This difference is not merely an artifact of the higher concentration of young people among the unaffiliated. Even among those ages 18 to 29, there are fewer married people among the religiously unaffiliated (12%) than among those with an affiliation (23%).

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