Irreligion in the United States

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Irreligion in the United States is of considerable extent, though lower than in many Western countries. Based on surveys, between 8% and 15% of citizens polled demonstrate objectively nonreligious attitudes and basically naturalistic worldviews.[1][needs update] The number of self-identified atheists and agnostics is around 4% each, while many persons formally affiliated with a religion are likewise non-believing.[2][3][4]

The percentage of Americans without religious affiliation, who mostly identify as "nothing in particular"- and are therefore known as "Nones"- is around 20%.[5] Researchers argue that most of the "Nones" should be considered "unchurched", rather than objectively nonreligious.[1] The "None" response is more of an indicator for lacking affiliation than an active measure for irreligiosity, and a majority of the "Nones" are either conventionally religious or "spiritual".[6]

Social scientists observe that nonreligious Americans are characterized by indifference.[7] Very few incorporate active irreligion as part of their identity, and only about 1-2% join groups promoting such values.[7]


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."[8]

Irreligiosity is often under-reported in American surveys; many more express lack of faith in god or have alternative views on god (e.g. deism), than those who self-identify as atheists, agnostics and the like.[9] In 2012, 23% of religious affiliates did not consider themselves to be "religious", though this is subjective.[10][11] The number of atheists and agnostics found in common surveys tends to be quite low since, for instance, according to the 2019 Pew Research Center survey they were 3.1% and 4% respectively[3] and according to the 2014 General Social Survey they were 4% and 5% respectively.[12] However, their self-identification and actual views on God do differ since one study observed that out of people who did not believe in God or a universal spirit, only 24% actually self-identified as "atheists" and 15% as "agnostics".[2] In one 2018 research paper using indirect probabilistic methods with considerable uncertainty estimated that 26% of Americans are atheists, which is much higher than the 3%-11% rates that are consistently found in surveys.[13]

A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center reported that, of the U.S. adult population, 19.6% had no religious affiliation and an additional 16% identified as "neither spiritual nor religious".[14][11] Furthermore, atheists made up 2.4% and agnostics made up 3.3% of the US population. 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 nor religious. 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.[15]

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.[16] The 2014 General Social Survey reported that 21% of Americans had no religion with 3% being atheist and 5% being agnostic.[12]

Some 20% of Americans considered themselves neither religious nor spiritual. Irreligiousness is highest among young, white, healthy, unmarried, educated males.[17][18][19]

When asked, around a third (24%-33% in different years) answered they were "not religious", though this label is highly subjective;[20] many of these identify/affiliate themselves with established religious groups and most believe in God.[19][21] In one survey, 88% considered themselves as at least moderately spiritual.[18] In the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) report, 15% of the US population identified as having "no religion", almost double the 1990 figure/[9]

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.[12]

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.[22]

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.[15]

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.[16]

A 2010 Pew Research Center study comparing Millennials to other generations showed that of those between 18 and 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.[23] 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.[11]

According to the American Values Atlas from PPRI, 24% of the US Population is unaffiliated with a religion in 2017.[24]

According to the Cooperative Congressional Election Study in 2016 31% were "nones" in 2016[25] and 29.5% were "nones" in 2018.[26]

According to a Pew study, 7% of those raised Protestant are now unaffiliated whereas 4% of those raised Catholic are now unaffiliated.[27]

In 2019, a Pew study found that 65% of American adults described themselves as Christians while the religiously unaffiliated, including atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular”, is 26%.[28]

According to a 2018 Pew report, 72% of the "Nones" have belief in God, a higher power, or spiritual force.[29]

Several groups promoting irreligion – including the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Camp Quest, and the Rational Response Squad – have witnessed large increases in membership numbers in recent years, and the number of nonreligious student organizations at American colleges and universities increased during the 2000s (decade).[8][30] However, the growth of atheist groups is very limited and will possibly shrink due to atheists normally being non-joiners.[31] The overwhelming majority of the nonreligious in the US do not express their convictions in any manner, and only a negligible percentage joins irreligious organizations.[31] 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.[31]

Various explanations for trends[edit]

Some of the underlying factors in the increases in people identifying as "Nones" seem to not be that significant numbers of people are dropping religion, but rather that, in recent times, it has become more socially acceptable for younger and older generations to identify as a "None" than in previous decades, when identifying as having no religion carried negative stigmas. With young people usually having lower religious observance than older people and them feeling more comfortable identifying as a "None", generational replacement factors could play a role in the increment.[32]

Other possible driving factors may be just broader general cultural changes in the American way of life. The growth of the internet and social media has altered the sense of community and spirituality and the growth of self-focused citizenry, as opposed to community-focused citizenry, has broadly led to less civic involvement and less loyalty to many public institutions.[33]

Other possible driving forces could be political backlash. Young adults, in particular, have turned away from organized religion because they perceive it as deeply entangled with conservative politics and some seek to distance themselves from polarized systems.[34]

Others have suggested that delays in marriage, settling down, and having children among younger people reduces or delays the number and commitment of people participating in traditional religions or religious activities.[35]

Robert Fuller argues that the ascendency of science as a way of understanding the world makes it difficult for some people to believe in the supernatural or accept the "blind faith" that religion often requires.[36]  That modern biblical scholarship has illuminated the human authorship of the Bible as opposed to divine revelation.[36]  And that most educated people are aware of the role that cultural conditioning plays in shaping beliefs.[36]

Younger generations as a whole have lost trust and belief in numerous institutions along with religion. For instance, Millennials, which make up about 1/3 the "Nones" demographic, tend to have less belief and trust in institutions such as the labor market, the economy, government and politics, marriage, the media, along with churches; than previous generations.[37] 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.[31]


"Nones" by US State (2014)

Various beliefs[edit]

Various beliefs and practices of the "Nones" in 2012.

Traits % Nones (2012)[38][39]
Believe in God 68%
Consider themselves religious 18%
Consider themselves spiritual but not religious 37%
Consider themselves as neither spiritual nor religious 42%
Pray every day 21%
Pray once a month 21%

"Nones" by state[edit]

Rank Jurisdiction % "Nones" (2007)[16] % "Nones" (2014)[16]
United States 16% 23%
01  Vermont 34% 37%
02  New Hampshire 29% 36%
03  Washington 23% 32%
04  Massachusetts 20% 32%
05  Alaska 27% 31%
06  Maine 25% 31%
07  Oregon 27% 31%
08  Montana 21% 30%
09  Colorado 25% 29%
10  Nevada 21% 28%
11  Idaho 18% 27%
12  California 21% 27%
13  Arizona 22% 27%
14  New York 17% 27%
15  Wyoming 28% 26%
16  Hawaii 18% 26%
17  Indiana 16% 26%
18  Wisconsin 16% 25%
19  District of Columbia 18% 24%
20  Michigan 17% 24%
21  Florida 16% 24%
22  Delaware 19% 23%
23  Connecticut 20% 23%
24  Maryland 16% 23%
25  Ohio 17% 22%
26  Utah 16% 22%
27  Illinois 15% 22%
28  Kentucky 12% 22%
29  New Mexico 21% 21%
30  Iowa 15% 21%
31  Pennsylvania 13% 21%
32  Rhode Island 23% 20%
33  Nebraska 16% 20%
34  Virginia 18% 20%
35  Missouri 16% 20%
36  Minnesota 13% 20%
37  Kansas 14% 20%
38  North Carolina 12% 20%
39  North Dakota 11% 20%
40  South Carolina 10% 19%
41  New Jersey 12% 18%
42  West Virginia 19% 18%
43  South Dakota 12% 18%
44  Texas 12% 18%
45  Oklahoma 12% 18%
46 Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia 13% 18%
47  Arkansas 13% 18%
48  Tennessee 12% 14%
49  Mississippi 6% 14%
50  Louisiana 8% 13%
51  Alabama 8% 12%

"Nones" by territory[edit]

Territories of the United States with percentage of population claiming no religion in 2010.

Territories % Nones (2010)
 U.S. Virgin Islands 3.8%[40] or 3.7%[41]
 Puerto Rico 1.9%[42]
 Guam 1.7%[43]
 Northern Mariana Islands 1%[44][45]
 American Samoa 0.7%[46]

"Nones" by region[edit]

A region of the western United States known as the “Unchurched Belt” is traditionally considered to contain the highest concentration of irreligious people, although this may have been surpassed by New England.[47]

Regions of the United States ranked by percentage of population claiming no religion in 2014.

Region % Nones (2014)[16]
West 28%
Northeast 25%
Midwest 22%
South 19%

"None" demographics[edit]

Demographics of the religiously unaffiliated in 2012 (as fraction of the named groups).

Race % Unaffiliated[48]
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%


In the late 2010s, 21% of registered voters were religiously unaffiliated; they are considered to be the largest "religious" voting block.[49][50]

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.[15] According to a Pew Research exit poll 70% of those who were religiously unaffiliated voted for Barack Obama.

In January 2007, California Congressman Pete Stark became the first openly atheist member of Congress. In January 2013, Kyrsten Sinema became the first openly non-theist Congresswoman, representing the State of Arizona.[51]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Robert Fuller, Spiritual, but not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America, Oxford University Press (2001). pp. 1-4.
  2. ^ a b "Not All Nonbelievers Call Themselves Atheists | Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project". April 2, 2009. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
  3. ^ a b "In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace". Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. October 17, 2019.
  4. ^ "Measuring Religion in Pew Research Center's American Trends Panel". Pew Research Center. January 14, 2021. 28% are “nones” (including 4% who describe themselves as atheists, 5% who are agnostics, and 18% who are “nothing in particular”)
  5. ^ "Religion Historical Trends". Gallup. June 8, 2007.
  6. ^ Frank Newport, God is Alive and Well: The Future of Religion in America. Simon and Schuster (2013). pp 14-15.
  7. ^ a b Zuckerman, Phil (2014). Living the Secular Life : New Answers to Old Questions. New York. pp. 123–124. ISBN 978-0143127932.
  8. ^ a b Salmon, Jacqueline. "In America, Nonbelievers Find Strength in Numbers", Washington Post (September 15, 2007).
  9. ^ a b Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 7, 2009. Retrieved May 8, 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link), March 2009, American Religious Identification Survey [ARIS 2008], Trinity College.
  10. ^ Cary Funk, Greg Smith. "Nones on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation" (PDF). Pew Research Center. pp. 9, 42.
  11. ^ a b c "Losing Our Religion: The Growth of the 'Nones'". NPR. January 13, 2013. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  12. ^ a b c Hout, Michael; Smith, Tom (March 2015). "Fewer Americans Affiliate with Organized Religions, Belief and Practice Unchanged: Key Findings from the 2014 General Social Survey" (PDF). General Social Survey. NORC. The percentage answering 'no religion' was 21 percent in 2014, 20 percent in 2012, just 14 percent as recently as 2000, and only 8 percent in 1990." & "In 2014, 3 percent of Americans did not believe in God and 5 percent expressed an agnostic view; the comparable percentages were 2 percent and 4 percent in 1991. More people believed in a 'higher power' in 2014 (13%) than in 1991 (7%).
  13. ^ Gervais, Will M.; Najle, Maxine B. (2018). "How many atheists are there?". Social Psychological and Personality Science. 9: 3–10. doi:10.1177/1948550617707015.
  14. ^ Cary Funk, Greg Smith. "Nones" on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation" (PDF). Pew Research Center. p. 43. All told, about two-thirds of U.S. adults (65%) describe themselves as religious (either in addition to be being spiritual or not). Nearly one-in-five say they are spiritual but not religious (18%), and about one-in-six say they are neither religious nor spiritual (15%).
  15. ^ a b c "'Nones' on the Rise". Pew Research Center: Religion & Public Life. October 9, 2012.
  16. ^ a b c d e "America's Changing Religious Landscape". Pew Research Center: Religion & Public Life. May 12, 2015.
  17. ^ "GSS Data Explorer | NORC at the University of Chicago". Retrieved May 20, 2018.
  18. ^ a b Chaves, Mark (2017). American Religion: Contemporary Trends. Princeton University Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 9780691177564. The vast majority of people — approximately 80 percent — describe themselves as both spiritual and religious. Still, a small but growing minority of Americans describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, as figure 3.4 shows. In 1998, 9 percent of Americans described themselves as at least moderately spiritual but not more than slightly religious. That number rose to 16 percent in the 2010s.
  19. ^ a b "More Americans now say they're spiritual but not religious". Pew Research Center. September 6, 2017. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
  20. ^ "World Values Survey Database". World Values Survey. World Values Survey Association. Retrieved March 27, 2018. Excluding DK/NA
  21. ^ ""Nones" on the Rise". Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. October 9, 2012. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  22. ^ "U.S. Religious Landscape Survey" (PDF). Pew Research Center. 2008.
  23. ^ "Religion Among the Millennials". Pew Research Center. February 17, 2010. Retrieved February 24, 2015.
  24. ^ "America's Changing Religious Identity". PRRI. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
  25. ^ "Are All Nones the Same? Exploring the Political Differences Between Atheists and Agnostics". Religion in Public. June 8, 2017.
  26. ^ "Growth and Decline in American Religion over the Last Decade". Religion in Public. July 9, 2019. Retrieved July 14, 2019.
  27. ^ "Faith in Flux". April 27, 2009.
  28. ^ "In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace". Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. October 17, 2019. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
  29. ^ Fahmy, Dalia (April 25, 2018). "Key findings about Americans' belief in God". Fact Tank. Pew Research Center.
  30. ^ Gorski, Eric (November 24, 2009). "Atheist student groups flower on college campuses". USA Today. The Associated Press. Retrieved June 3, 2014.
  31. ^ a b c d Zuckerman, Phil (2014). Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions. [S.l.]: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-1594205088.
  32. ^ Gregory, Smith (September 14, 2016). "The factors driving the growth of religious 'nones' in the U.S." Pew Research Center.
  33. ^ Mercadante, Linda A. (2014). Belief without Borders : Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 29–30. ISBN 9780199931002.
  34. ^ Hout, Michael; Fischer, Claude S. (April 2002). "Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Politics and Generations". American Sociological Review. 67 (2): 165. doi:10.2307/3088891. JSTOR 3088891.
  35. ^ Wuthnow, Robert (2007). After the Baby Boomers : How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings are Shaping the Future of American religion. Princeton University Press. pp. 51–70. ISBN 978-0691127651.
  36. ^ a b c Fuller, Robert C. (December 20, 2001). Spiritual, but not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-803354-7.
  37. ^ Masci, David (January 8, 2016). "Q&A: Why Millennials are less religious than older Americans". Pew Research Center.
  38. ^ "Religion and the Unaffiliated". "Nones" on the Rise. Pew Research Center: Religion & Public Life. October 9, 2012.
  39. ^ "Most of the Religiously Unaffiliated Still Keep Belief in God". Pew Research Center. November 15, 2012.
  40. ^ "The Association of Religion Data Archives | National Profiles". Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  41. ^ U.S. Virgin Islands. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  42. ^ Puerto Rico. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  43. ^ Guam. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  44. ^ "The Association of Religion Data Archives | National Profiles". Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  45. ^ Northern Mariana Islands. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  46. ^ American Samoa. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  47. ^ Lin, Joanna (March 16, 2009). "New England surpasses West Coast as least religious region in America, study finds". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 16, 2020.
  48. ^ "'No Religion' on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation". Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. October 9, 2012. Retrieved October 19, 2012.
  49. ^ "How the faithful voted: A preliminary 2016 analysis". Pew Research Center. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  50. ^ Ingraham, Christopher. "The non-religious are now the country's largest religious voting bloc". Washington Post. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  51. ^ Oppenheimer, Mark (November 9, 2012). "Politicians Who Reject Labels Based on Religion". The New York Times. Retrieved November 28, 2012.


External links[edit]