The Shrinking Secular Gender Gap

Among the many findings of the latest PRRI report on religion in America, my favorite is the growing number of women with no religious affiliation. In their new report, PRRI reports that 45 percent of women are nones. This is up 4 percentage points from what the Pew Religious Landscape Survey found a decade ago. An increase of 4 percentage points may not sound like much. But if we look at it in terms of real population numbers the impact of this increase becomes apparent.

The nones growing faster than the general population.

Between 2007 and 2016 the adult population in the USA went from 227.2 million to 249.5 million, a 10 percent overall growth in a little less than a decade. However, the secular population increased from 16 percent of the adult population (or roughly 36.4 million people) to 24 percent (or 59.9 million). In other words, the nones increased by 64 percent (basically, 6.5 times faster than the adult population).

More than half of “new nones” are women.

There is still a gender imbalance in the none population, but in the last decade women left religion at similar rates. In 2007 14.9 million women identified as nones (41 percent of all nones). If we extrapolate the PRRI numbers, a total of nearly 27 million women have now no religious affiliation. That indicates a growth of 81 percent in the number of women with no religious affiliation. The 12.1 million women who have joined the ranks of the nones represent 51 percent of the 23.5 million new nones in the last decade.

Making the world safer for secular women

The Pew and PRRI data don’t have much to say about why people, and especially women, are leaving religion. But those of us who have done so and who know many people who have abandoned the religion they were raised in and became atheists, agnostics and other types of nones have an idea of what’s going on. In a world where women are a major part of the labor force, where there’s a political party dedicated full-time to send women back to the home…and that said party is controlled by the most reactionary religious elements of the country, it should not be surprising that women have decided that religion isn’t for them. That doesn’t mean that secularism is more welcoming. Despite of their love for pointing out religious misogyny, many so-called atheist and secular leaders are very good at dissing the views of secular women. The data may show that religion is losing its grip on many in the United States, but unless we have institutions that are truly inclusive, organized secularism will continue to be a boys club.

Sources:

Adult population

2016 nones gender ratios

2007 nones gender ratios

Note: edited to fix typo “adulation” meant “adult population” (thanks autocorrect)

Advertisements

Twenty Percent (or 7.5 Million!)

Today is December 12, the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico. Which is a good day to remind people how Latinos’ religious composition has changed in recent years, and how large the secular cohort has become. We are now 20 percent of the Latino adult population, or 7.5 million. So, my secular Latino friends, look at this quick infographic and remember: you’re not alone.

La Guadalupana

The Nones are Becoming More Honest

The most recent Pew poll released last week shows that the nones (secular Americans, aka: the “unaffiliated”) are becoming more secular, at least according to their own headline. In my humble opinion, the nones have just become more honest in their answers about their religious practices.

The recent report based on the belief and behavior questions in Religious Landscape Survey highlights two main findings. The first, that the nones are increasingly secular, the second that American soceity as a whole is also becoming more secular. As the figure below shows, the nones have become more likely to say religion is not important, more likely to admit they rarely pray or go to church. But the most amazing finding is that the percent who say they don’t believe in God increased by 50 percent, from 22 percent in 2007 to one-third (33 percent) in 2014.

Source: Pew Research Center
Source: Pew Research Center

These numbers are the best evidence that being nonreligious is normalizing in American society. The trend is stronger among young people, who are more likely to know other nonreligious people. This may be because their friends in school or the neighborhood are not religious or because they are more technologically-minded and know other nonreligious thanks to the internet.

The other major finding of the report is that these measures of religious belief and behavior are declining among the population at large. However, the report is clear that there has been no major changes among religious Americans. This means that all of the change comes from the nones. This is very important because it means the nones are a group so large that they can now affect national trends by themselves. Hopefully we have not reached “peak secular” yet and more good news like these will continue to appear in future studies.

Tropical & Godless: American Atheists in San Juan

American Atheists is having a regional meeting in Puerto Rico this weekend. When we think of Puerto Rico and religion, there’s an assumption that all of the people in the island are Catholic. For example, in the 2008 exit polling of the Democratic Party Presidential Primaries the media companies in charge of the Exit Poll Pool decided to leave religion out of the Puerto Rico questionnaire. This issue was addressed by my former colleague Mark Silk who promoted a comment I had made in a previous post on that primary. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of research polling on religion in Puerto Rico. Luckily, the Pew Research Center included Puerto Rico in their large study of religion in Latin America last year.

According to the Pew poll, 8 percent of Puerto Ricans are what they call “religiously unaffiliated.” They’re basically people with no religious identification. The majority of Puerto Ricans still call themselves Catholic, but a large segment of the population, one-third (33 percent) to be precise, are Protestant.

What about atheists? The topline results of the poll (page 33 here) show that only 1 percent of Puerto Ricans identify as atheist. We must remember, though, that religious identification and religious belief are two different things. It may well be the case that some people in Puerto Rico do not believe in a god, but do not identify their religion as “atheist.” I know, because I am one of those persons who refuses to identify atheism with religion.

Fortunately, Chapter 3 of the report includes a discussion on religious beliefs. It does not seem to be the case that there are more nonbelievers than self-professed atheists. Ninety-nine percent of Puerto Ricans claim to believe in God. This makes the 1 percent figure of self-identified atheists and non-believers consistent with one another.

PR_rel2015But we must not despair. Eight percent of the adult population are religious nones. Although 91 percent of them claim to believe in God, we need to understand these numbers in their context. Many of these nones may be going through a process of rethinking their beliefs. Only 3 percent of Puerto Ricans claimed that they grew up with no religious affiliation and that number has nearly tripled.

PR_nones2015The Nones in Puerto Rico are mostly former Catholics and Protestants. The growth of the Nones in Puerto Rico is not just the case of non-practicing (or nominal) Catholics just admitting they don’t really have any attachment to the old religion and that’s encouraging news. Nearly 30 percent of Nones are former Protestnts, so even people from the group that has the highest rates of church-going and belief are leaving.

Considering how pervasive religion is in Puerto Rico, this is a big deal. This is a place where substance abuse treatment is openly religious, and addiction is classified as a “spiritual ailment.” This is a place where education, little by little, has become privatized and taken over by “nonprofit” ministries. A place where the police organize traffic stops to preach. I did not identify as an atheist until I moved to New England after graduating from college. I identified myself a “deist,” a believer in a higher power. The very secular culture of New England made it safe for me to be openly atheist. I did not feel that comfortable being an atheist in Puerto Rico.

Maybe the high visibility of the convention, combined with the introduction of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and groups like Humanistas Seculares de Puerto Rico and Ateistas de Puerto Rico openly challenging the privilege religious organizations have in everyday government functions will change the dynamics. And the future seems bright. The Pew poll also shows that the nones in Puerto Rico are, on average, 7 years younger than Protestants and 10 years younger than Catholics. I wish I had institutions I could rely on two decades ago. Hopefully the new generations of non-religious Puerto Ricans will experience the freedom I couldn’t feel. 

Featured image: Humanistas Seculares de Puerto Rico