There Are 29.4 Million Nonreligious Americans (December 2001)

Fourteen percent of U.S. adults have no religion, according to the latest American Religious Identification Survey 2001, released by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

The survey found that 52% of adults are Protestant, 24.5% are Catholic, 1.3% Jewish and .5% Muslim. The survey of more than 50,000 randomly selected adult respondents, considered the nation’s most comprehensive on religion, follows up a 1990 survey.

“One of the most striking 1990-2001 comparisons is the more than doubling of the adult population identifying with no religion, from 14.3 million (8%) in 1990 to the current 29.4 million (14.1%),” according to the press release of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

“The 1990 figure may be downwardly biased due to a slight change in the wording of the key survey question in 2001. In seeking a more accurate measure of identification, the clause ‘if any’ was added this year to the question, ‘What religion do you identify with?’ The prior wording may have subtly prompted respondents to name some religion.”

The survey also found that although 81% of Americans identify with a religion, only 54% reside in a household where anyone reports belonging to a church, temple, synagogue, mosque or other place of worship.

“About 20% of those who say they have no religion (including many atheists and agnostics) nevertheless report that they or someone else in their household is a member of a religious congregation,” said the researchers. “About 40% of adults who describe themselves as ‘religious’ report no membership in any religious congregation.”

Other noteworthy findings:

Catholics at 51% are a majority in Rhode Island and the largest single category (44%) in Massachusetts.

Mormons at 51% are a majority (surprise, surprise) in Utah.

Baptists are the majority in Mississippi (55%).

New York is home to 25% of America’s Jews and 24% of Muslims, more than any other state.

California has the highest percentage of nonreligious people (15%), also of Jehovah’s Witnesses (17%) and Hindus (30%).

While the median age of all adults is 43 years, for Catholics it is 42, for Jews 51, Muslims 28, and 36 years for those with no religion.

Black adults are most likely to give their religion as Baptist (47%) or no religion (11%).

Native Americans are most likely to give their religion as Baptists (20%) or no religion (19%).

Hispanics are most likely to give their religion as Catholic (57%) or no religion (13%).

The study was directed by Dr. Egon Mayer, Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center and Brooklyn College, and Dr. Barry Kosmin, who also directed the 1990 religion study and is the co-author of One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary America (1993).

Freedom From Religion Foundation