New Survey Shows Millennials Are Losing Faith, but Americans Still Think Atheism is Bad for Society

The Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution recently released the results of a survey on “Citizenship, Values, & Cultural Concerns” (PDF) and a couple of the findings are very notable for what they say about atheists.

First: This is no surprise to anyone, but the percentage of young people (18-29) who have no religious affiliation is just leaps and bounds bigger than any other age group (31%).

One other important religious difference separating seniors and Millennials is the number of each who identify as religiously unaffiliated. Nearly one-third (31%) of Millennials identify as religiously unaffiliated, compared to roughly 1-in-10 (11%) seniors. Millennials (13%) are also about four times more likely than seniors (3%) to identify as atheist or agnostic.

I guarantee that percentage hasn’t peaked yet, either.

Second: We’re still pretty damn unpopular. Moreso than any other group surveyed, people ranked atheists as a group changing America for the worse:

Somehow, “non-religious” people are liked a little more than atheists…

On the other hand, by a nearly 4-to-1 margin, Americans believe that atheists are changing American culture for the worse (39%) rather than for the better (10%). There is roughly a 2-to-1 gap in views about the impact of non-religious people (31% worse vs. 16% better).

For what it’s worth, the numbers aren’t as bad when you look at a younger demographic:

A majority (55%) of seniors say that atheists are changing American culture and way of life for the worse, compared to less than 1-in-4 (24%) Millennials.

So a quarter of Millennials think atheists are changing America for the worse.

I’ll admit: I’m shocked by that. People are losing faith but despising atheists at the same time. Doesn’t seem to make sense. But it may just be a holdover from the past — we’re still trying to overcome a lot of nasty stereotypes.

No Cross No Crescent summarizes that idea well:

There is positive change on the horizon, but its rate is glacial. The rapid rise of the religiously unaffiliated, combined with the negative perception of them that dominates the society otherwise, is concerning for future social tensions. But going back into the closet is not an option.

I think it’s faster than “glacial” but we still have a long way to go. Still, the momentum is on our side and our unpopularity will go in the other direction before long. We just have to continue speaking up and speaking out.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.