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The number of religious ‘nones’ has soared, but not the number of atheists – and as social scientists, we wanted to know why

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses the growing number of religiously unaffiliated individuals in the United States, often referred to as "the nones." It examines the diversity within this group, the factors that influence whether an individual identifies as an atheist, and the social forces that shape the adoption of an atheistic worldview over time.

🙋 Q&A

[01] The Rise of the Religiously Unaffiliated

1. What is the current percentage of religiously unaffiliated individuals in the U.S.?

  • The percentage of religiously unaffiliated individuals in the U.S. has grown from around 5% in the 1970s to around 30% today.

2. How does the percentage of atheists compare to the overall religiously unaffiliated population?

  • Only about 4% of U.S. adults identify as atheists, despite the religiously unaffiliated being a much larger group.

3. What are some of the diverse ways in which the religiously unaffiliated identify themselves?

  • Unaffiliated responses include "agnostic," "no religion," "nothing in particular," "none," and so on.
  • Only about 17% of religiously unaffiliated people explicitly identify as "atheist" on surveys.

[02] Factors Influencing Atheist Identification

1. What is the relationship between not believing in God and identifying as an atheist?

  • Rejecting a belief in God is not a sufficient condition for identifying as an atheist, as only about half of those who say they do not believe in God will select "atheist" as their religious identity.

2. How do political beliefs influence the likelihood of identifying as an atheist?

  • Political conservatives are less likely to identify as an atheist even if they do not believe in God, likely due to greater negative views of atheists in conservative circles.

3. What role does stigma play in the likelihood of identifying as an atheist?

  • The social stigma associated with being an atheist, especially in certain communities, can discourage individuals from adopting this identity, even if they do not believe in God.

[03] Adopting an Atheistic Worldview

1. What percentage of individuals moved from having some belief in God at age 16 to not believing in God as an adult?

  • About 6% of individuals who stated they had some level of belief in God at age 16 moved to saying "I do not believe in God" as an adult.

2. How does the strength of teenage belief in God influence the likelihood of adopting an atheistic worldview?

  • The stronger an individual's belief in God was at age 16, the less likely they are to have adopted an atheistic worldview as an adult.

3. How do factors like race/ethnicity and income influence the adoption of an atheistic worldview?

  • Black, Asian, and Hispanic Americans were less likely to later identify as an atheist than white individuals, potentially due to facing additional stigma.
  • Higher-income individuals were more likely to adopt an atheistic worldview, which could be due to having the resources to avoid negative social consequences.
Shared by Daniel Chen ·
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