FFRF membership survey: Who we are

The Freedom From Religion Foundation surveyed its 15,500 members in late spring, with nearly 4,000 members participating. Here’s what we found:

The typical member is a highly educated, white, married male 50 years or older, probably close to retirement, who preferred not to indicate his political leaning, who is a volunteer, describes himself as an “atheist” and grew up in a home where both parents were religious.

More than 42% of respondents who were raised with religion were Protestant, 30% were Catholic and 27% Jewish. The “catalyst” for rejecting religion chosen most frequently was “Religion doesn’t make sense.” Other intellectual reasons closely followed. About 5% deconverted after “reading the bible,” in keeping with the Pew Forum’s recent study showing that the nonreligious are much better informed about religion than devout followers.

Being a “lonely atheist” continues to be a problem, with a third of respondents “wary of letting others know I reject religion,” and a quarter saying “I often feel like the only ‘infidel’ in my area.” About 20% reported experiencing “social stigmatism as a nonbeliever.”

The good news is that half can “speak out freely about my lack of religion,” 48% are married to a spouse or have a companion who is nonbelieving,  and a third have children who are also nonbelievers.

Educational levels are impressive. FFRF found 33.5% of respondents were four-year college grads, 26% had at least one master’s degree, 11% had a Ph.D., 4% are attorneys and 3% have an M.D. The most common professional field, at 13%, is education.

Only 3.5% of respondents are in their 20s, 14% are 40-somethings, 20% in their 50s, 25% in their 60s, 18% in their 70s and 9% are octogenarians.

About 9% checked GLBT, 11% checked vegetarian and 24% checked military veteran.

Family values rank high, with 58% currently married, 17% single, 12% divorced and 7% widowed. A small minority were in formal or informal civil unions.

More than 88% of respondents checked “atheist” as a favorite appellation, and 11.8% chose agnostic.

About 17.7% grew up in a freethought home, compared to a quarter in a “mixed” home and 57% in a religious home.

Although most largely broke free of religious backgrounds, a healthy 17.5% call themselves “second-generation freethinkers” and 5% are third-generation.

Males outnumber females as members, 71% to 29%, and 95% identify as Caucasian, with 2% “mixed,” and less than 4% Hispanic, Native American, Asian American or African American.

“We’ve started to do more outreach to the African American and freethought communities of color, and clearly, this is a great untapped source for new members who support reason and secularism in this country,” said Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Perhaps the most surprising result: Less than 10% of members who took the survey responded to the question asking about political leaning. Of those responding, 20% identified as progressive, 9% liberal, 6.5% Green, 4% Democratic, 2.5% GOP or conservative and 4% libertarian.

“FFRF is an apolitical, nonpartisan nonprofit, so we think the lack of response on this question shows that’s exactly how our members want us to stay,” said Foundation Co-President Dan Barker, who tabulated the results. “The issues of freethought and concern for the constitutional principle of separation between church and state transcend party politics.

“Our members want FFRF to concentrate on the two purposes for which we were formed: to educate the public about nontheism and defend a secular form of government,” Barker said.

Freedom From Religion Foundation