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Pew study paints a picture of the average US atheist

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J-P Mauro - published on 02/14/24

A new survey measures views of atheists in the US, with data suggesting that not nearly as many "nones" would also consider themselves "atheist."

A survey undertaken by Pew Research Center in the summer of 2023 has shed some light on the portion of US adults who consider themselves “atheist.” A previous Pew study reported on by Aleteia found that the number of “nones,” those who do not identify with any particular religion, has surged in recent years. The new survey, however, suggests that not nearly as many of those who fall into the category of “none” would also fall into the category of “atheist.” 

According to Pew, only 4% of US adults call themselves “atheist,” a figure that is twice as high as reported in a 2007 Pew study. In the US, men are slightly more likely to call themselves atheist than women, with 6-in-10 self-proclaiming atheists being male. Furthermore, 7-in-10 respondents who said they were atheist reported being aged 49 years or younger. 

About three-quarters of self-identified atheists reported having no belief in God or a higher power. This group fits the traditional definition of atheist: as someone who does not believe in the existence of God or gods. There is, however, a considerable portion of self-identified atheists (23%) who say they do believe in some form of higher power, suggesting that there is some discrepancy among atheists as to what constitutes atheism. 

Regardless of their beliefs in a higher power, the vast majority of US atheists (98%) responded that religion is “not too” or “not at all” important to their daily lives. Still, 79% of US atheists reported a “deep sense of wonder about the universe” that drives their thoughts at least a few times per year. Of these, however, only 36% reported this line of thought leading to a sense of peace. 

US atheists reported high levels of concern with the role religion plays in society. Ninety-four percent of atheist respondents said that “religion causes division and intolerance” and 91% believe that religion encourages “superstition and illogical thinking.” Seventy-three percent said that they felt religion does more harm than good to society, but 2-in-5 (41%) said that it helps society by giving life meaning. A further 33% acknowledged the propensity for religion to encourage people to treat others well. 

These concerns about religion in society have led many atheists to stay informed about religion. In a 2019 survey on religious knowledge, atheists tended to be among the best-performing groups, on average answering around 18 of 32 questions correctly. For instance, they were most likely to know that there is no “religious test” required to hold public office, and 8-in-10 also knew that Easter commemorates the Resurrection of Christ. 

Read more findings from the 2023 survey at Pew Research Center.

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