Fewer Americans Believe in God Than Before

According to the latest Gallup poll, the percentage of Americans who believe in God is still in the 90s… but there’s been a significant drop since the last time the question was asked in 1967, from 98% to 92%.

They didn’t ask the question between those years, but I’d guess than most of the drop happened in the past decade.

There is a margin of error here, but I’ve never seen the percentage of actual atheists (and not just “nones”) as high as 7%. That’s a huge deal.

But what if you take into account people who don’t believe in “God,” per se, but who believe in a “universal spirit”?

They shouldn’t count in our numbers.

No matter, though. It turns out the percentage still drops, from 96% to 91%. And (with the margin of error) the percentage of atheists is at 8%!

So, breaking that down a little further, which groups are less likely to believe in God?

A lower percentage of men believe in god (90%) than women (94%).

Those aged 18-29 are less likely to believe in God (84%) than those 65+ (94%).

This isn’t shocking: The more educated you are, the less likely you are to believe in God. 87% of people with a postgraduate education believe in God compared to 92% of people with only a high school education. (Curiously, though, college grads are at 94%…)

Liberals (85%) are less likely to believe than Conservatives (98%), Democrats (90%) are less likely to believe than Republicans (98%), and Easterners (86%) are less likely to believe than Southerners (96%).

In other words, all the stereotypes you had before still hold true.

(Thanks to Masada for the link!)

  • http://atheistreadsbible.blogspot.com/ Jude

    That’s crazy. That many people believe in God? One estimate of the number of vegetarians in the U.S. was about 5%, so that accounts for all those carnivorous atheists who post comments on your blog.

  • http://k0ks3nw4i.blogspot.com James

    That’s a huge increase, but isn’t the number as high as 15-18% in the US for those who describe themselves as non-religious?

    Perhaps this merely reflects the recent willingness of some of those “non-religious” to outright express their disbelief or to call themselves atheists?

  • Dark Jaguar

    I think the “or a universal spirit” is a pretty important metric there. Those who only call it that generally aren’t part of any mainstream faith, but they do belong to the group of wishy washy “spiritual” types who buy into things like astrology and the “power of intuition”. I agree with Richard Dawkins in that this group in particular is the sort that replaces organized religion when one no longer trusts those establishments, but still isn’t a skeptic of their own mental biases.

  • Steve

    Those are still extremely disturbing numbers. Here is a comparison with other countries:

    http://i173.photobucket.com/albums/w50/alix2304/charts%20IV/atheismrate.jpg

  • Mariela

    I’m confused… shouldn’t there be fewer people answering No when you add the universal spirit?

    (Hemant says: Yes, but the margin of error covers the difference, so it’s not as weird as it appears.)

  • K Patterson

    You have to be careful using the term “non religious” because many think the term has to do with organized religion and will answer “I’m not religious but I have a personal relationship with Jesus.” Go figure, but that’s how some people parse it.

  • El Perro

    I believe the actual number is at least twice that 7%. A lot of people are wary of admitting such things in public.

  • Chris

    Since they appear to have asked the God / God+Spirit questions to different groups (across time, in addition to in this most recent poll), I wonder if the inclusion of “Universal Spirit” primes people to equate or associate the two, lowering the intellectual or emotional barrier to atheism and leading to some people on the fence saying no.

  • Claudia

    87% of people with a postgraduate education believe in God compared

    That is a ridiculously high number. I can be optimistic and hope that though the overwhelming majority of people with post-graduate degrees in the US believe in God, they’ll likely be much less likely to buy into organized religion or let their religious views influence their social opinions (gays, abortion etc.). I hope that’s the case but of course one would need to see the data.

    Still, it’s a huuuuge number. Of the (many) PhDs in my life, only one that I know of believes in God. Granted, I’m surrounded by biologists most of the time and we’re apparently irreligious even by science standards, but still, 87%? Wow.

    I’m happy that we’ve managed to chip away some percentage points, and especially happy with the numbers amongst the young, which bodes well for the future. Still, it’s a rough number and it shows just how long a road we have ahead of us.

  • Old Fogey

    Over 90% of Americans believe in a god?

    Thats horrifying. I don’t think I even want to visit such a benighted place, let alone live there. It’s even higher than Israel, which is a religious state.

    A quick run through of many friends and acquaintances gives me a rough figure of less than 10% who have the slightest religious attitude.

    I’ll stay in the UK thanks.

  • SlipperyWhenWet

    I like Maine.

    We are %25 “no religion”

  • dauntless

    @Claudia

    Still, it’s a huuuuge number. Of the (many) PhDs in my life, only one that I know of believes in God.

    You’d be surprised. I certainly was. Over half of the physics department at my undergraduate university (a small state school, so I knew most of the professors) believed in Christian God and went to church. Granted, it was a small school, but these were men and women who did their doctoral work in cosmology, quantum physics, etc. It shocked the hell out of me every time I heard something like “I go to the sae church as Dr. So-and-so”.

    This was not as common in the biology and chemistry departments, but there were still people who believed in Christian God in those departments too. It seems to be mostly the liberal version of Christian God that accepts that evolution happened but that God (specifically, Christian God) set up the rules and got the ball rolling.

    I can see why they got jobs at small, state schools rather than research universities.

  • Rich Wilson

    That many people believe in God? One estimate of the number of vegetarians in the U.S. was about 5%, so that accounts for all those carnivorous atheists who post comments on your blog.

    I think you mean omnivorous.

  • jarppu

    @Steve, that link you gave about the number of atheists was very interesting. However I wonder, for example, why was Estonia listed there twice? According to that study Estonia has both 10% and 50% of the population non-religious or atheists :D . I wonder how much trust can we have with this study?

  • jose

    So “I believe in A” gets 92% and “I believe in A or B” gets 91%, which is less.

    I guess the universal spirit is pretty unpopular, since it was picked by -1% of people.

    Hemant, you teach math. How does that make sense?

  • Miko

    jose:

    So “I believe in A” gets 92% and “I believe in A or B” gets 91%, which is less.

    I guess the universal spirit is pretty unpopular, since it was picked by -1% of people.

    Note this question was only asked of a half-sample, which probably means half got one version and the other half got the other version. They had a margin of error of 4% for the whole sample, which means a margin of error of about 5.7% for the half-sample. In other words, the percentage that don’t believe in God is really somewhere between 1% and 13% and the percentage that don’t believe in God/spirit is between 2% and 14% (both with 95% confidence and rounded to the same number of sig. figs as the original data). Lots of overlap there.

    Incidentally, that margin means the new results could just be sampling error, although the size of the jump makes me suspect there’s probably really something there.

  • Loren Petrich

    That may be a matter of definition, however. In 2007, the Barna group discovered that many Amaericans believe in heretical “Gods”. I can no longer find the page on Barna’s site, but it’s referred to by several other pages, so I can be confident of its former existence.

    # 4% believe everyone is God. (2007)
    # 69% believe that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect creator that rules the world today. (2007)
    # 8% believe that God is the total realization of personal, human potential. (2007)
    # 3% believe that there are many gods, each with different power and authority. (2007)
    # 7% believe that God is a state of higher consciousness that a person may reach. (2007)
    # 3% believe that there is no such thing as God. (2007)

    What’s ordinarily meant by “God” is “the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect creator that rules the world today”, so be careful about “God” polls.

  • Marty

    I disagree with this poll. I’ve seen others that have twice that figure. Most people I know have no affiliation. Though I live in Ann Arbor, not known for it’s churchgoing

  • Tim

    It’s also very telling how the percentage shoots back up to 98% during the 50s…the same era during which our McCarthyism and irrational fear/hatred of Communism stuck “god” on our money and in our Pledge.

  • http://www.frommormontoatheist.blogspot.com Leilani

    I hope that this survey isn’t accurate, I was really hoping that it was true that our numbers were up around 14% here in the USA.

    I know a bunch of ‘new’ atheists. Meaning they have realized that a god of any kind is improbable and unprovable and have admitted so in the last year or two, including myself. Which says something, at least to me, 10 years ago I only knew one atheist…

  • fileunderaction

    I don’t think the number of actual atheists has risen, only the number of people who publicly identify as such. It has become more acceptable to out yourself as an atheist.

  • Claudia

    @dauntless, I think I should note that the folks I was around belong to large universities and research institutions in Madrid, Spain. Europe is far more secular than the US, and I’m guessing, like you said, that people working for the bigger educational and scientific institutions are less likely to be religious than those working for smaller places.

    It’s a funny thing about the physicists. I’ve read several times that within the relatively low religiosity of scientists, physicists are the most religious ones. I’ve always thought this was odd; how can you possibly think we’re in any way special or Gods main interest when you know better than anyone how laughably small a part of the Universe we are? Maybe for some being confronted with how tiny, insignificant and frail we actually are leads them to seek some overarching meaning and protection? Obviously this isn’t the case for all of them, but I think it’s a curious thing nonetheless.

  • abb3w

    Marty and Leilani: the circa 15% numbers are for the “Nones”, those with no religious affiliation. This includes those self-identifying as atheists and as agnostics, but also as “Nothing In Particular” — the last of whom may be secular or spiritualistic in approach. The Nones and those who don’t believe in God are overlapping but distinct groups. The 2008 Religious Landscape Survey report from the Pew Forum is worth reading.

    The General Social Survey has several questions asked over the years on religious matters (among many others) for the US. The variable RELIG gives religious identification, where the rise of the nones (RELIG=4) by year can be seen. There are also questions on interpretation of the bible as inerrant, inspired, or fable (BIBLE); on frequency of attending religious services (ATTEND); on the frequency of prayer (PRAY); and so on.

    The GSS includes a question about individuals’ confidence in the existence of God; to wit, “Please look at this card and tell me which statement comes
    closest to expresing what you believe about God:
    1. I don’t believe in God. 2. I don’t know whether there is a God and I don’t believe there is any way to find out. 3. I don’t believe in a personal God, but I do believe in a Higher Power of some kind. 4. I find myself believing in God some of the time, but not at others. 5. While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God. 6. I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it.” Coded as GOD, the GSS has asked this question nine times between 1988 and 2010. Combining the 1 and 2 responses gives about 9%, which I would guess approximately corresponds to the bracket of people from the Gallup poll. There has also been a distinct drop around 5% in category 6 over the period, but is still circa 60%.

    Berkley’s Survey Documentation and Analysis has an on-line tool for doing quick-and-dirty analysis of the GSS data.

    I’ll also note that the numbers have substantially increased over time. However, the GSS data suggests it likely not so much due to individuals changing their minds as due to younger generations (birth year is coded as COHORT) tending to be less religious than earlier ones. Religious belief has stayed fairly constant within Cohorts over time. (One exception: circa 2004 there was an abrupt cross-cohort rise in the number of people who said they never pray. This mostly cut into the “less than once a week” bracket, however.)

  • PhiloKGB

    It should be noted that, presumably, the ‘post-grad degree’ category also includes MBAs, JDs, education masters, &c, that wouldn’t be expected to have the comparatively high degree of irreligiosity observed in the hard sciences.

  • http://angelofharlots.blogspot.com Nena

    Huh. I’m a woman, in the South, with a bachelor’s degree. That’s three strikes against me, and I still managed to be atheist.

    I’m really surprised at those low numbers. I happen across quite a lot of atheists here in Tennessee; it really seems like the percentages should be higher.

  • Craig

    A few categories of people to always be aware of:

    Plenty of people are functionally deist, though they may not use that term to describe it. Many people don’t believe what religion preaches, and may or may not believe in a “personal God” but do believe in some kind of God that they can’t really define. I see this a lot. “I believe in something” or “I believe there’s some sort of God.” but thats as far as it gets. And you have people who pray and believe in a personal God but don’t buy into organized religions. “Non-religious” can include plenty of believers of some sort.

    You’ve got plenty of people who are probably functionally atheist but just won’t use that term. People who may not think about it too much and don’t like the terms and labels but don’t really believe in any kind of God. And your agnostics, and your haven’t-made-up-their-mind types are a bigger group than atheists.

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    I wish that they’d ask about church attendance instead. If you attend church at least once a month then you are religious by your actions rather than your stated beliefs. In the UK 15% of people attend church at least once a month though 38% express a belief in God and another 40% believe in a life force or spiritual power (functionally deist).

    It helps to state the questions in a way that removes some of the ambiguity. “Do you believe in God?” is incredibly ambiguous as “God” and “belief” may mean different things to different people.

  • http://twitter.com/cfgt5 Gregory Butler

    Religion is the human attempt to learn, and understand God better, religion also sets up rules to prevent a chaotic society. God is spirit,an energy, a life force that does not have a set religion. The bible never mentions God belonging to a religion. Jesus did create a religion. Jesus seems like a very intelligent person, that has great charisma, has a pure mind, and has a almost absolute positive mindset. Jesus also knows how to alter energy, maybe many of his miracles were result of him using energy/ brain cells in a way that we do not know how to, or even believe we can do yet. There are many things humans do not know, and do not know how to do.

    The Bible is a great book and teaches morality, how to make friends, and how to make the world a better place. By following the ten commandments you prevent future guilt,hardship, drama, and stress. Overtime though many pages of the bible have been lost, and/or altered.  

    God is all around us, and lives in every living thing. God is that force, or part of that force that creates everything that is seen and unseen, and I believe it is seen in human reproduction. We are made in Gods image, we can create, we can give life. Or maybe this solar system is one of many brain cells, in the creature of God. That would essentially mean that God is a gigantic living being that we are a part of. 

  • http://twitter.com/cfgt5 Gregory Butler

    Religion is the human attempt to learn, and understand God better, religion also sets up rules to prevent a chaotic society. God is spirit,an energy, a life force that does not have a set religion. The bible never mentions God belonging to a religion. Jesus did create/was responsible for the religion of Christianity. Jesus seems like a very intelligent person, that has great charisma, has a pure mind, and has a almost absolute positive mindset. Jesus also knows how to alter energy, maybe many of his miracles were result of him using energy/ brain cells in a way that we do not know how to, or even believe we can do yet. There are many things humans do not know, and do not know how to do.
    The Bible is a great book and teaches morality, how to make friends, and how to make the world a better place. By following the ten commandments you prevent future guilt,hardship, drama, and stress. Overtime though many pages of the bible have been lost, and/or altered.  
    God is all around us, and lives in every living thing. God is that force, or part of that force that creates everything that is seen and unseen, and I believe it is seen in human reproduction. We are made in Gods image, we can create, we can give life. Or maybe this solar system is one of many brain cells, in the creature of God. That would essentially mean that God is a gigantic living being that we are a part of. 

  • http://twitter.com/cfgt5 Gregory Butler

    Religion is the human attempt to learn, and understand God better, religion also sets up rules to prevent a chaotic society. God is spirit,an energy, a life force that does not have a set religion. The bible never mentions God belonging to a religion. Jesus did create/was responsible for the religion of Christianity. Jesus seems like a very intelligent person, that has great charisma, has a pure mind, and has a almost absolute positive mindset. Jesus also knows how to alter energy, maybe many of his miracles were result of him using energy/ brain cells in a way that we do not know how to, or even believe we can do yet. There are many things humans do not know, and do not know how to do.
    The Bible is a great book and teaches morality, how to make friends, and how to make the world a better place. By following the ten commandments you prevent future guilt,hardship, drama, and stress. Overtime though many pages of the bible have been lost, and/or altered.  The bible does contain many Egyptian teachings, but what if there was meaning in those teachings. The bible was written by humans.God is all around us, and lives in every living thing. God is that force, or part of that force that creates everything that is seen and unseen, and I believe it is seen in human reproduction. We are made in Gods image, we can create, we can give life. Or maybe this solar system is one of many brain cells, in the creature of God. That would essentially mean that God is a gigantic living being that we are a part of. 

  • http://twitter.com/cfgt5 Gregory Butler

    Religion is the human attempt to learn, and understand God better, religion also sets up rules to prevent a chaotic society. God is spirit,an energy, a life force that does not have a set religion. The bible never mentions God belonging to a religion. Jesus did create/was responsible for the religion of Christianity. Jesus seems like a very intelligent person, that has great charisma, has a pure mind, and has a almost absolute positive mindset. Jesus also knows how to alter energy, maybe many of his miracles were result of him using energy/ brain cells in a way that we do not know how to, or even believe we can do yet. There are many things humans do not know, and do not know how to do.
    The Bible is a great book and teaches morality, how to make friends, and how to make the world a better place. By following the ten commandments you prevent future guilt,hardship, drama, and stress. Overtime though many pages of the bible have been lost, and/or altered.  

    God is all around us, and lives in every living thing. God is that force, or part of that force that creates everything that is seen and unseen, and I believe it is seen in human reproduction. We are made in Gods image, we can create, we can give life. Or maybe this solar system is one of many brain cells, in the creature of God. That would essentially mean that God is a gigantic living being that we are a part of. 

  • http://twitter.com/cfgt5 Gregory Butler

    Religion is the human attempt to learn, and understand God better, religion also sets up rules to prevent a chaotic society. God is spirit,an energy, a life force that does not have a set religion. The bible never mentions God belonging to a religion. Jesus did create/was responsible for the religion of Christianity. Jesus seems like a very intelligent person, that has great charisma, has a pure mind, and has a almost absolute positive mindset. Jesus also knows how to alter energy, maybe many of his miracles were result of him using energy/ brain cells in a way that we do not know how to, or even believe we can do yet. There are many things humans do not know, and do not know how to do.
    The Bible is a great book and teaches morality, how to make friends, and how to make the world a better place. By following the ten commandments you prevent future guilt,hardship, drama, and stress. Overtime though many pages of the bible have been lost, and/or altered.  
    God is all around us, and lives in every living thing. God is that force, or part of that force that creates everything that is seen and unseen, and I believe it is seen in human reproduction. We are made in Gods image, we can create, we can give life. Or maybe this solar system is one of many brain cells, in the creature of God. That would essentially mean that God is a gigantic living being that we are a part of. 

  • Deborah Kersh

    Boy, to be stupid, I have a pension and  a beautiful home, read the latest news and enjoy documemtarys about science and educational matters. I have raised an 1. Atorney General Investagator2.100% mother raising 4 educated well mannered boys and 3.son with HVAC license, who does government contracts. I have three children who most leaders only wish they could have raised, but are dealing with their children doing drugs and coming home to live.

    I dare you to suggest less educated or idiots believe there is a God! There is an almighty God who created everything. He is the God of Abraham, and His son is Jesus Christ who is the only way to get to the Father. We have an advocate to the Father and he is the son of God, Jesus Christ. You do not need a preist or Mary. You have direct contact with Jesus in prayer or calling upon his name for salvation. You will be saved and joined in the family of God and forgiven for your sins, and yes, your sins of arragance.

    • ADam

      Its usually the families that do beleive in god who have decent things later


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