Atheist Demographic Growth Stable

Here at the Secular Coalition for America one of our primary goals is to increase the visibility of and respect for nontheists.  Getting Rep. Pete Stark to become the first openly nontheistic member of congress was a big step for our visibility.  But while that was part of a top-down approach, the bottom-up strategy is vital too.  As there are more and more of us in the country, our voice and our presence will be stronger and more noticeable.

And later in life I’m totally going to take credit.  I’ll tell my children that my hard work paid off.  Thank you all for making me look good to my future kids.

Here’s a key to that success:

Researchers once observed a familiar pattern of religious disaffiliation among young adults, who then would reaffiliate later on, said Darren E. Sherkat, a sociologist at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

But that pattern is breaking down, said Sherkat, who analyzes data from the General Social Surveys.

“We’re seeing greater stability of non-affiliation, and we’re also seeing greater numbers of parents raising their children without affiliation, which was really quite rare in earlier generations,” he said.

There’s often the pessimistic assumption in the movement that most of the secular young adults become religious when they get older – usually when they have kids themselves.  But if recent studies are any guide, the trends are changing in our direction, and our growth is more stable than before.

About Dr. Denise Cooper-Clarke

I am a graduate of medicine and theology with a Ph.D in medical ethics. I tutor in medical ethics at the University of Melbourne, am an (occasional) adjunct Lecturer in Ethics at Ridley Melbourne, and a voluntary researcher with Ethos. I am also a Fellow of ISCAST and a past chair of the Melbourne Chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality. I have special interests in professional ethics, sexual ethics and the ethics of virtue.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    To be fair, non-affiliation does not equal atheism. The “spiritual, but not religious” and “I have my own ideas about God” groups are getting ever larger as well.

  • littlejohn

    I agree, Mike. But I suspect those folks still represent a step in the right direction. The people with fuzzy religious beliefs are probably not the people who oppose gay marriage or want to bomb abortion clinics. When you’re in the minority, even an increase among the “undecideds” is a victory.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    I often thought that the elderly might well adopt a religion as they sense the impending tread of the grim reaper but I’d never considered parenthood as an excuse to abandon rational thought.

  • heironymous

    This describes me. Raised theist (RC actually), snapped out of it and now I’m raising my kids non-theist.

    One thing I miss is the community aspect of being part of a church. It was also very good at teaching behavioural ethics.

    I also don’t appreciate the negative stigma about atheism in our society.

  • ungullible

    Agreed – if we had more apatheists, then there would be nothing for atheists to oppose, and that would be a good thing. I look forward to the day that being an atheists truly is pointless – that belief in god is a non-issue.

  • beckster

    My husband and I were told that once we had children we would find our way back into the fold. Well, we have two kids and it hasn’t happened much to the disappointment of both sets of grandparents. Much of it has to do with non-religious people and parents forming groups and offering each other support. Yeah for the interwebs!!

  • skinman

    “There’s often the pessimistic assumption in the movement that most of the secular young adults become religious when they get older – usually when they have kids themselves.”

    It worked the other way with me. With the birth of my oldest child I went from agnostic to atheist.

  • http://www.americanthinker.com Jon

    It is very true that most parents, even parents that are Atheists, want their children to be able to believe in God even if they don’t. That is one reason why church’s focus on reaching out to young parents.

    I also like what MikeTheInfidel said:

    To be fair, non-affiliation does not equal atheism. The “spiritual, but not religious” and “I have my own ideas about God” groups are getting ever larger as well.

    This is very true. I can live with people who are “non-affiliated”, for various reasons. I find atheists much harder to deal with given the level of hypocrisy, pretentiousness, and arrogance that is almost inherent in their belief system.

  • http://logofveritas.blogspot.com Veritas

    It is very true that most parents, even parents that are Atheists, want their children to be able to believe in God even if they don’t.

    I don’t want my children to believe in God. I want them to decide for themselves, but I will be happiest if they choose atheism, as I have.

  • mkb

    I don’t think that it is a matter of wanting their kids to believe in a god, but rather wanting the support of other people in raising their children to be ethical human beings. Fortunately, there are more and more places to find such support. Two are ethical societies associated with the American Ethical Union, http://www.aeu.org, and congregations of the Society for Humanistic Judaism, http://www.shj.org.

  • Delphine

    Is Jon trolling?

    I don’t recall any non-theist parents (and I grew up around a lot of them) wanting their children to believe in any religion at all. Most of them openly mock superstition and make fun of religious folks.

    I certainly do not want my children to believe in any religion. If they do end up believing in a religion, I will consider that a failure of my parenthood and be deeply disappointed at my children.

  • Kaylya

    There’s definitely a contingent of people who don’t go to church as young adults but who start going again when they’ve got kids because for whatever reason (including family pressure, in many cases I’m sure) they think it would be good for the kids.

    There’s also cases where church isn’t important to one spouse but it is for the other, and they both go “for the kids”.

  • mike c.

    My spouse of 36 years was one of the non-affiliated when we married and for our 7 years without children spent a little time searching for something spiritual in her life. She now has her own ideas about a creator, but frequently says we should have taken our daughters to church. I’ve always said that would be up to her but I wasn’t going (I’ve been an atheist since before we met). They never went to church and now that they are adults, one’s spiritual, one’s religious and one’s an atheist. Not too bad, but I wish they were all rationalists. I never wanted any of them to believe in a god, but they made up their own minds about it.

  • http://www.americanthinker.com Jon

    I don’t recall any non-theist parents (and I grew up around a lot of them) wanting their children to believe in any religion at all. Most of them openly mock superstition and make fun of religious folks.

    You may or may not have experienced a lot different phenomenons in life. That doesn’t mean that they don’t ever occur. If you look at the distribution and characteristics of church attendence and research from secular and christian groups you will find that many young parents either return to church or try church for the first time at the onset of parenthood.

    @Delphine

    Is Jon trolling?

    If by that question you mean, “Is Jon someone who disagrees with atheism?”, then yes. However, that’s not what trolling is. I have found though, that most atheists will treat people that disagree with their perspective very harshly since any reasonable argument they would attempt to make would not hold water.

  • Siamang

    Is Jon trolling?

    Does a bear … in the woods?

  • Ron in Houston

    I find atheists much harder to deal with given the level of hypocrisy, pretentiousness, and arrogance that is almost inherent in their belief system.

    Gee, psychological projection anyone?

  • Karen

    This is excellent news and you absolutely should take some credit for it, Hemant!

    I definitely remember churches specifically marketing to young parents who wanted to bring their children up in church because they believed there was no other way to instill ethics and morality in them. A lot of people still equate that good stuff with belief in god, and vice verse.

    But that seems to be changing, which is terrific! I think all of us coming out as atheists, telling our friends we aren’t taking our children to church and then letting them see the results (ethical, well-adjusted human beings, not hedonistic monsters – hopefully!) has helped create a framework for non-religious parenting.

    Of course people like Dale McGowan, Atheist Mom and others who’ve stepped out formally deserve a lot of credit. It’s very gratifying to see the numbers turning in our direction.

  • Shannon

    “we’re also seeing greater numbers of parents raising their children without affiliation, which was really quite rare in earlier generations,” he said.”

    Mmmm. I want to hear more about those non-affiliated kids. That’s how I was raised. I guess it *was* odd back then because off hand, I can’t think of anyone else I personally know in my age range (I’m 40) who was raised without religion. Well, other than my sister.

    I really think being raised with no religion was the best thing my parents did for me and now I’m doing the same for my kids.

  • heironymous

    Jon, I hate feeding trolls. I really do. But I do have a question.
    I’m going out on a limb and assuming you don’t believe in the goddess Athena. Are you telling me you wish that your daughters did? And moreover to paraphrase:

    Most parents, even parents that are nonbelievers in Athena, want their children to be able to believe in Athena even if they don’t.

    That’s a really hard sell. I mean, some of them might. But it seems like a completely meritless assertion.

  • medussa

    Jon, you’re being accused of being a troll, not because you disagree with atheism, but because you are so condescending, irrational and insulting about it. You’ll notice that there are other believers who visit this site and leave comments, and those who behave like adults are listened to with respect, responded to with respect, and even thanked for their contributions.
    You are the one who is hypocritical, pretentious and arrogant, and have earned the title troll fairly.

    So, to your post. What is the source of your statement about atheist parents wanting their children “to be able to believe in god”, whatever that means? You must have a source to make such a statement, especially since you point out to Delphine that one’s experiences don’t necessarily reflect a larger reality…

  • twirlgrl

    I was raised theist and I am now an atheist. My husband (also an atheist) and I are raising our son, who is now 5, without religion. The rest of our family members are all religious and there is often tension but so far, we have worked through (or around) it. We want him to be respectful of others’ beliefs and we regularly discuss and read about different religions. If he decides to follow a religion when he is older, yes, I will be disappointed but I will respect his choice as long as he makes an informed decision.

    To Jon, disagreeing with atheism doesn’t make you a troll. If you wander over to the forums over on the right side of the page, you will find many intelligent, respectful discussions between atheists and theists (and some not so much, but…meh). Posting inflammatory remarks and insults on an open atheist blog with the intent of causing an issue and with no intent of meaningful discussion makes you a troll. And yes, you are a troll.

  • Revyloution

    Jon said

    “I have found though, that most atheists will treat people that disagree with their perspective very harshly since any reasonable argument they would attempt to make would not hold water.

    Im really having trouble parsing this sentence Jon. It sounds like your admitting that religious arguments don’t hold water. If youre trying to say atheist arguments don’t hold water, then I’m even more confused. Atheists don’t make arguments for the non-existence of god/gods, we just demand solid evidence for the claims that he/they do exist.

    And for the record, I wouldn’t call you a troll. In my opinion, trolls are posters who drop an inflammatory statements, and never respond to counter arguments. I find your arguments sophomoric, not trollish.

  • Guffey

    Well do I remember being told, in response to my announcement that I was going to leave my family’s religion (around the time I entered college) “oh that’s OK honey… that happens when kids go to college. When you get out of college and into the real world you’ll be back. It’s a phase.”

    … 30 years later … haven’t gone back and am soooooooooooo glad.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    I have found though, that most atheists will treat people that disagree with their perspective very harshly since any reasonable argument they would attempt to make would not hold water.

    If people disagree with me, it typically doesn’t bother me. It’s when, as you do, they start categorizing everyone who disagrees with them as hypocritical, pretentious, or arrogant that it starts pissing me off.

    I don’t mock RELIGIOUS people, Jon. I mock YOU, because YOU are a prick. You come onto Hemant’s blog just to troll and get reactions. Well, Jonny boy, congratulations. You got a reaction. What, did you not get enough hugs as a child? What’s with this pathetic need to be the center of attention?


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