Chapter 3: Importance of Religion
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with the general public, fewer Asian Americans say religion is very important
in their lives, while more say religion is either not too important or not at
all important to them. There are, however, big differences among Asian-American
religious groups on this measure.
it comes to views on the importance of religion, one common indicator of
religious commitment, Asian-American Christians are slightly less inclined than
Christians in the general public to say religion is very important in their
lives. Asian-American Buddhists and Hindus, by contrast, are much less inclined
than Asian-American Christians to say religion is very important to them.
Americans overall, U.S. Asians generally place a lower priority on leading a
very religious life than on other life goals, such as being a good parent,
having a successful marriage and owning a home. However, about two-thirds of
Asian-American Christians say living a very religious life is either “one of
the most important things” to them or a very important goal.
Views on the
Importance of Religion
U.S. Asians (39%) say religion is very important
in their lives, which is substantially lower than the percentage of the general
public that says the same (58%). Conversely, the proportion of Asian Americans
who say religion is somewhat important (30%) or not too or not at all important
(30%) is substantially higher than the percentage of the general public that
expresses these views (24% say it is somewhat important, and 16% say it is not
too or not at all important). There is considerable variation in religious
commitment among U.S. Asian religious groups, however.
Americans who are Buddhist or Hindu are much less likely than Asian-American
Christians to say religion is very important in their lives. About a third of
Asian-American Hindus (32%) and Buddhists (27%) say religion is very important
to them, compared with about two-thirds of Asian-American Protestants (64%) and
Catholics (also 64%). Among the U.S. public overall, 74% of Protestants and 60%
of Catholics say religion is very important to them.
share of Asian-American evangelical Protestants who say religion is very
important in their lives (79%) is roughly the same as the share of white
evangelicals in the general public who say this (84%). The same pattern is seen
among mainline Protestants. Four-in-ten Asian Americans who are mainline
Protestant say religion is very important in their lives (44%), compared with
48% of white mainline Protestants.33
are more significant differences, however, among the unaffiliated. Of Asian
Americans who are unaffiliated with any particular religion, just 4% say
religion is very important to them. Fully three-quarters of unaffiliated U.S.
Asians (76%) say religion is not too or not at all important in their lives,
and an additional 18% say religion is somewhat important. Among all
unaffiliated U.S. adults, by comparison, 14% say religion is very important to
them, while 58% say religion is not too or not at all important, and 26% say
religion is somewhat important.
is the case in the general public, Asian-American women are more likely than
men to say religion is very important in their lives. Likewise, older U.S.
Asians are more likely than younger cohorts to say religion is very important.
Additionally, Asian immigrants are more likely than native-born U.S. Asians to
say religion is very important to them.
Americans at all levels of educational attainment are less likely to say
religion is very important in their lives than people in the general public
with similar education levels.
Religion as “One of
the Most Important Things”
a separate question, survey respondents were asked to rate a handful of
possible goals—including living a very religious life—as one of the most
important things in life, very important (but falling short of the most important), somewhat important or not important.34
a good parent and having a successful marriage top the list of “the most
important things” in Asian Americans’ lives. Other priorities—including leading
a very religious life—trail far behind. Indeed, of the seven possible goals the
survey asked about, leading a very religious life ranks near the bottom of the
list; about the same percentage of Asian Americans consider it to be one of the
most important things as say the same about having a lot of free time to relax
or do things they want to do.
share of Asian Americans who say “living a very religious life” is one of the
most important things to them is about the same as the share of the general
public that holds the same view (22% vs. 20%). But more Asian Americans than
members of the public overall say living a very religious life is not important to them; a quarter of Asian Americans (25%)
say this, compared with about a fifth of all U.S. adults (19%).35
also is a lot of diversity of opinion among Asian-American religious groups on
the question of whether leading a very religious life is one of the most
important things they want to accomplish.
Americans who are Christian—particularly evangelical Protestants—tend to place
a higher level of importance on living a very religious life than do other U.S.
Asian religious groups. Fully 54% of the evangelical Protestants surveyed say
it is among the most important things to them. Hindus and Buddhists, by
contrast, are much less likely to consider “living a very religious life” among
their top goals. About a fifth or less of U.S. Asian Buddhists (19%) and Hindus
(17%) say that leading a very religious life is one of their most important
priorities. Among Asian Americans who are not affiliated with any particular
religion, just 3% say living a very religious life is one of the most important
Protestants—particularly evangelicals—are more likely than Protestants in the
general public to place a high value on living a very religious life.
Asian-American Catholics are also more likely than Catholics in the general
public to say that a very religious life is one of their most important goals.
33 This report compares Asian-American Protestants, Catholics and those who are religiously
unaffiliated with similar subgroups in the public overall. In these cases, the
overall public figures include U.S. Asians as well as all other adults with
these religious affiliations. But for the two Protestant subgroups—evangelical
and mainline Protestants—the comparisons are between Asian Americans and those
in the general population who are white and not Asian. White evangelicals and
white mainline Protestants are commonly analyzed in Pew Research Center reports
because they are particularly important groups for understanding not only
religious beliefs and practices but also social and political attitudes in the
U.S. (return to text)
34 Survey respondents were asked how important seven items are in their lives—being
a good parent, having a successful marriage, owning a home, having a successful
career, helping others, having a lot of free time and leading a very religious
life. Respondents were asked whether each item is “one of the most important things in your life, or very important but
not one of the most important things, or somewhat important, or not important.”
For more on these findings, see Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic
Trends project. 2011. “The Rise of Asian Americans.” Washington, D.C.: June. (return to text)
35 A similarly worded question was asked of the general public in a 2010 Pew
Research Center survey. While these questions are comparable, they are not
identical. (For the exact question wording, see the topline in Appendix 4.) The
wording difference is minor, but it may have affected the responses. Therefore,
differences between Asian Americans and all U.S. adults should be interpreted
with caution. (return to text)
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