American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population

Americans Who Don’t Identify with a Religion No Longer a Fringe Group

“Nones” now largely mirror Mainstream America

HARTFORD, Conn. – The 34 million American adults who don’t identify with any particular religious group reflect the general population in terms of marital status, educational attainment, racial and ethnic makeup, and income, according to a new study by Trinity College researchers, American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population.

Report Highlights (click for full report)

  • The 1990s was the decade when the “secular boom” occurred – each year 1.3 million more adult Americans joined the ranks of the Nones. Since 2001 the annual increase has halved to 660,000 a year. (Fig.3.1)
  • Whereas Nones are presently 15% of the total adult U.S. population, 22% of Americans aged 18-29 years self-identify as Nones. (Fig.1.2)
  • In terms of Belonging (self-identification) 1 in 6 Americans is presently of No Religion, while in terms of Belief and Behavior the ratio is higher around 1 in 4. (Fig. 1.17)
  • Regarding belief in the divine, most Nones are neither atheists nor theists but rather agnostics and deists (59%) and perhaps best described as skeptics. (Fig.1.17)
  • The most significant difference between the religious and non-religious populations is a gender gap. (Fig. 1.17)
    • Whereas 19% of American men are Nones only 12% of American women are Nones. (Fig. 2.1)
    • The gender ratio among Nones is 60 males for every 40 females. (Fig.1.1)
    • Women are less likely to switch out of religion than men.
    • Women are also less likely to stay non-religious when they are born and raised in a non-religious family.
  • Most Nones are 1st generation – only 32% of “current” Nones report they were None at age 12. (Fig.1.10)
  • 24% of current Nones (and 35% of 1st generation or “new” Nones) are former Catholics. (Fig. 1.10)
  • Geography remains a factor – more than 1 in 5 people in certain regions (the West, New England) are Nones.
  • Class is not a distinguishing characteristic: Nones are not different from the generalpopulation by education or income. (Figs 1.6 & 1.7)
  • Race is a declining factor in differentiating Nones. Latinos have tripled their proportion among Nones from 1990-2008 from 4% to 12%. (Fig.1.4)
  • The ethnic/racial profile of Nones shows Asians, Irish and Jews are the most secularized ethnic origin groups. One-third of the Nones claim Irish ancestry. (Figs 1.4 & 1.5)
  • Nones are much more likely to believe in human evolution (61%) than the general American public (38%). (Fig. 1.15)
  • Politically, 21% of the nation’s independents are Nones, as are 16% of Democrats and 8% of Republicans. In 1990, 12% of independents were Nones, as were 6% of Democrats and 6% of Republicans. (Fig. 2.1)

ARIS 2008