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

You’ve certainly heard of the ARIS 2008 survey from Trinity College. One of the more interesting aspects of the survey is the demonstration that there is a sex difference in patterns of religions identification. Below I give some links where this has been discussed, but I want to note that in many discussions one of the first things people say … quite reasonably … is that the differences seem small and potentially well within the normal sampling error of a survey.

The reason people think that is because they are accustom to survey data in relation to political polling where sample error is usualy 5% or 3% because of standard methodologies and sample sizes. The ARIS survey has a much lower error rate. The lower error rate does not mean the the conclusion is stronger than it might otherwise be. It means that it is less likely spurious than it might otherwise be. But, in this case, this certainly means that the differences between groups (mainly male vs. female) can not be written off as statistical artifacts. (Though they could easily be of little consequence. Or not.)

In order to help move this discussion beyond sample size questions, I am hereby reproducing salient portions of the Methodological Note for the recently widely discussed and blogged about survey “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population.”

  • The American Religious Identification Survey … is a random digit dialed (RDD) survey of a nationally [US] representative sample of 54,461 adults. Of those, 7,407 are Nones, or individuals who responded to the question: What is your religion, if any? with “none,” “atheist,” “agnostic,” “secular,” or “humanist.”
  • For these 7,407 people, basic socio-demographic information was collected (e.g., age, sex, etc.).
  • A randomly selected, nationally representative subset of those 7,407 cases, 1,106 people, was asked an additional series of questions on behaviors and opinions that provide further insights into the profile of Nones. The subset is a nationally representative “silo” of Nones.
  • Additionally, a random subset of the overall 54,461 participants totaling 1,015 individuals were asked some of the same questions as the None silo. This “national silo” is a random subsample and is representative of the general U.S. adult population.
  • The 1990 data in this report are from the National Survey of Religious Identification; a nationally representative sample of 113,713 adults among whom 9,899 self -identified with one of the above None categories.
  • The sampling error for the full ARIS 2008 is +/- 0.31%. For the No Religion sub-sample, the sampling error is +/- 2.38%.

The following blog posts have discussed this survey, and include interesting comments.

The actual survey is available as a PDF file. Just click here and it’s yours!

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0 thoughts on “Americans Who Don’t Identify with a Religion No Longer a Fringe Group

  1. I didn’t chime in on the earlier thread – so here goes. I know that some of you are going to think I’m nuts. Please just know that I love you all. ­čÖé

    I agree entirely with this survey! (There I said it – whew!)

    I’ve always thought that men that were really religious were weak minded. Not strong.
    I do not necessarily think that male “believers” are weak – just the religious.

    In my view, men that went to church regularly were doing so for financial (networking) reasons or because their wives made them.

    I remember thinking this way since I was very young. (Dad’s an atheist – Mom’s a believer) They must have had some type of arrangement, because my brothers and I were not asked to go to church after we reached a certain age – of course we could go if we wanted to.

    Forgive me, I’m just throwing this out there … I’m a girl and I have always been very good at math. I know there have been some studies suggesting that men are better at math than women. I wonder if the same ratio of male to female non-believers would be similar to the ratio of male to female SAT scores (or something like that) for math? In other words… Does one’s capacity for logic have anything to do with these results?

  2. Part of the basis of “belief” seems to be the tendancy to project personal characteristics on the environment in an effort to determine “root cause”. The logic of an ancient believer might be, “Gee, we make a lot of noise and throw things around when we get angry. A volcano makes a lot of noise and throws things around. The volcano must be angry.”

    Such rationale (if actual) could be understood as a misdirected form of empathy.

    If one assumes (as is commonly assumed; whether it’s justifed or not I don’t know) that women, on average, have more empathy than men, it would therefore be simple to conclude that if 1) “belief” is a form of empathic response and 2) women have more empathy than men then *) women would therefore be more inclined to belief than men.

    Again, those are two assumptions – there may be evidence to support the assumptions, and there may not. It’s a possible chain of logic, and might make a decent starting point for analysis.

  3. Interesting for you to mention that, Stacy; the book I am currently reading (very slowly, but reading) deals with the Sullk’ata of Bolivia and it seems the women play the central role in religious rituals. Along with this, I too have noticed the pattern of men (mostly among the Catholic families I know, but also from a few Episcopal/Catholic Lite and Methodist families) only tentatively attending religious ceremonies as an obligation rather than a desire to attend. I’m not sure if this is as pervasive as these anecdotes suggest, but it is interesting. If this is truly the case, then it is even more interesting that most Christian and Islamic denominations and exclude women from leadership roles. So, not quite QED, but *NAD. We may have something interesting to look into.
    *Need additional data.

  4. One author, I think Betty Freidan, suggested that women are more superstitious because the outcome of their lives is greatly influenced by whom they marry, and that is largely a crapshoot, I mean influenced by luck. As a hypothesis, it sounds plausible. A woman generally adopts her husbands friends and hobbies and her life is greatly influenced by his success or lack thereof.

    In Freidan’s time, it was even more the case. I was taken aback to find out, after I married, that if my husband decided to move to the middle of nowhere and I declined to accompany him, legally I would be abandoning him and not vice versa. The law has since been changed to require some negotiation between spouses as to where their domicile shall be.

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