Top 10 Most/Least Religious States in the Country: 2013 Edition

Gallup has just released their annual list of the most and least religious states in the country and there’s no real change from the past.

The most religious states (darker green in the map below) are in the same order from last year… while the least religious states (lighter green) gained Hawaii but lost New York:

Mississippi is still the worst place for non-religious Americans to live — 88% of people there call themselves very religious or moderately religious — while Vermont sounds absolutely delightful (only 43% are very or moderately religious while 57% are non-religious):

Incidentally (and also according to Gallup), Mississippi ranked at the top or near the top of the list of states when it came to obesity, inability to afford food, and least livable place.

When people don’t have a lot going for them, it’s understandable they would turn to religion. If only they would realize God isn’t helping their situation…

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • C Peterson

    Utah is interesting. The high percentage of “very religious” is to be expected, but unlike other states at the top of this list, they have few moderates and a lot of nonreligious people. No other state shows this kind of polarization. It makes me think that the extremism of Mormonism is actually driving all the non-Mormons in the state away from religion completely.

    • WallofSleep

      Anecdotal, but I had a friend in high school whose family moved to my area from Utah. All seven of them were very much atheist.

    • baal

      It might be nice to know if the Mormon dominance of Utah actively drives other churches out (repression), non-Mormons have had it with religion (your idea, personal level), other churches ceding the State or some combination of factors.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Perhaps the more religion is ‘in your face’, the more the fence sitters get tired of being pushed and get off the fence on the other side.

    • Quintin van Zuijlen

      Also notable is that moderates gradually make up less of the population as the state becomes less religious, but their number remains nearly constant.

    • Stev84

      I don’t think you can really do Mormonism moderately. It’s all or nothing.

    • Gus Snarp

      I think it’s less a matter of Mormonism pushing other religious folks away from religion and more a matter of nonreligious immigration. Utah is very appealing to people who like outdoor activities and extreme sports. You’ve got hiking, climbing, skiing, snowboarding, and it’s gorgeous. So what you have is a large number of very religious Mormons who are there because they’re Mormon, and a group of newer residents who are far more likely to be nonreligious who come for the outdoor beauty.

      • C Peterson

        It’s more than that. Colorado also attracts a huge number of people interested in outdoor activities. Overall, it’s not terribly religious, but it shows the same ~30% moderate population as virtually every other state. Only Utah is way out in the statistical fringe. The only other state that comes close is Idaho, which is also overwhelmingly Mormon.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      It and Idaho (also Mormon leaning) are the only two visible outliers.

    • http://www.facebook.com/karen.uncoolmom Cary Whitman

      Utah is unique in a lot of ways. As a pretty much life-long resident of Utah I feel like I should weigh in on this discussion. I’m not Mormon, and never have been, my parents moved to Utah in the late 60′s when my dad took a teaching position at the University of Utah. I think all the ideas expressed here have some merit, but the thing you missed is the Utah-Morman culture. The first thing that came to my mind is that I don’t know any Mormons who would describe themselves as “moderately religious”. I know plenty who don’t follow all the teachings of the church, don’t believe the wacky parts of the Book of Mormon (which is most of it), and would be considered “moderately religious” in any other place, but they still describe themselves as “very religious” and do all kinds of things with their church because it’s so much a part of their family and their lifestyle. So I think some of the uniqueness might just be caused by a cultural difference in what “moderately religious” means. Utah is also definitely very polarized. Salt Lake City proper (not the suburbs!) has been pretty progressive for a long time and has long had a vibrant homosexual community, so i expect this is where most of the “non-religious” group comes from. I don’t think the Mormons drive other religions out, as one person speculated, but I think there is definitely something to the idea that in-your-face religion drives some people in the opposite direction. I also think that the origins of Mormonism are so ridiculous that once you start learning about them (which is hard not to do living here) you quickly realize that it’s all a bunch of nonsense, and once you decide one religion is nonsense, it is all too easy to start questioning them all.

      • Cylon

        As an ex-Mormon living in Utah, I can verify that more often than not, when someone leaves the Mormon church they get turned off of religion entirely. There are a lot of reasons for that and you touch on some of them, but something else is that Mormon teachings spend a fair amount of time on why traditional Christianity is wrong, so they’re often not too keen on just finding another church.

        • http://www.facebook.com/karen.uncoolmom Cary Whitman

          God point, I don’t think I even know one exmormon who is still religious. I think there had got to be a lot more switching churches in other states.

          • fsm

            Ah, my Mother was a Lutheran for years after leaving the Mormon Church. Of course that may have had a lot to do with my Father being Baptist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nclowe Nick Lowe

    Quick question- I’m a novice when it comes to charts and graphs, but what is the last column, n? Is that the number of survey respondents?

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      Yep. You got it right. n is the number of respondents.

  • Ayako Uyeshima

    May I point out that correlation isn’t necessarily causation… there are a load of other factors that could explain any of the stats. For example, Southern culture?

    • C Peterson

      I don’t think many would say that religion is the cause of all the social ills. The root problems are ignorance, conservatism, and lack of education. These things also cause religion.

      • newavocation

        Good point, but maybe religion helps keep them down on the farm.

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        I’m not sure I’d include conservatism. But I would include poverty.

        • C Peterson

          I didn’t mean traditional political conservatism, but the sort of malignant regressivism that resists any change.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      What it does show however is that there is no evidence that religion prevents a large number of social problems. Beyond Hemant’s list there are many more, http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/the-correlation-between-religiosity-and-well-being-among-u-s-states/

  • Negathle

    Yeah, this completely confirms my decision to not apply to Mississippi State for my PhD. The school website in itself disincentivized me (I couldn’t even find application deadlines!), but this helps solidify that decision.

  • Faerie Fey

    Oh yes, Vermont IS delightful. There’s a fair number of people who say things like “God Bless” but I don’t have to worry that I’m going to lose my job or get beat up because I’m an atheist.

    • monyNH

      In the rural school where I work, I’ve already found two other people who choose not to say the pledge. It’s a great place to be if you want to be yourself!

      I’m proud to say that my home state and my current state of residence rank as the two least religious states…for being founded by a bunch of Puritans, New England is looking pretty good! :)

  • Bob Becker

    Utah…..Mississippi of the west! I’m so proud!

  • Gus Snarp

    For this, and many other reasons, if I could just figure out how I would make a living I would move to Vermont immediately.

    But Ohio looks better than I expected, 31% nonreligious. They must mostly live around Cleveland.

  • Aliandre

    I would say that Colorado is somewhat weighted by respondents in the Colorado Springs area – it might be my circle of friends/acquaintances but I generally can assume most people in the Denver Metro area to be non-religious and be mostly right. We have newage folks but few fundamentalists in my experience.

  • onamission5

    I have a feeling that Oregon would show as more religious than the map suggests, if only rural Oregonians could be arsed to reply to surveys, which they usually can’t. lol.

  • Art_Vandelay

    I’m curious to know how people define the term “nonreligious.” It obviously doesn’t mean atheist but I suspect it’s just liberal-minded people trying to separate themselves from the archaic views of the church. I would bet most of them will toe the line when they’re around religious people and reap all of the social advantages that come from being part of that majority though.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    That awesome feeling where in several states the non-religious are equal to or out number the very religious.

    • JohnnieCanuck

      I count 17 where the very religious are out numbered and one, New Jersey, where they are exactly equal in the table.

      Only in Vermont do the nonreligious out number the rest, with New Hampshire showing them as equal in number.

      There’s a ways to go yet. What’s heartening is the steady improvement. In a way, all we have to do is win the new generations and wait for the old ones to bite the dirt.

      • allein

        I’m in NJ; we’re pretty evenly split, 35/31/35. Doesn’t really surprise me…there are plenty of churches around (some with fairly entertaining signs) but the “very religious” isn’t overly visible, at least in my daily life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/karen.uncoolmom Cary Whitman

    This map looks remarkably similar to maps of per-pupil spending on education. Utah and Mississippi have been fighting for last place in education spending for many, many years. Seems like education and religion just don’t mix.

    • abb3w

      While Utah is down at the bottom, there look to be almost a dozen states with lower per-pupil expenditures than Mississippi. The correlation looks to be indirect — Religiosity tends Republican, Republican tends skimping on absolute education spending. (Relative to median income, the relationship looks even weaker.)

      • Tiffany C.

        Although, the only ‘saving grace’ about Utah and their Mormon majority is that they are very charitable to their own. That’s partially why Utah’s poor are not as bad off as Mississippi’s poor. As per the heavily conservative Republican states, they do tend to focus on cutting spending on critical things such as education and healthcare, and expect charitable organizations to pick up their slack. That also plays into keeping their people in check because religious organizations have deeper pockets to further their causes while helping people with food, healthcare, college, etc. It’s sad that as atheists it’s more difficult to organize and help others.

  • Not a math genius

    I love sterotypes and general statements regarding religion. It seems much easier to be anti-religious than to have faith in something that is not tangible. Isn’t it ironic that one reader, Tiffany C. complains that atheists do not “organize to help others” when the vary nature of not joining a religion is based on individuality, not usually a trait we see in organizations. As for correlation between obesity and religion, that’s like saying most people that live on the West coast only eat tofu or that math teachers in Chicago are more analytic and are therefore more qualified to analyze the statistical trends of obesity in America, devoid of methodology.

    I can make a correlation between the top religious states as being polarized by race; by being historically agricultural, being heavily influenced by the rise in Hispanic population, which is traditionally Catholic, or a number of factors not included in this article.

    Statistics don’t lie, but the man using them has an inherent bias, so this argument is moot.


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