Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
The Surprising Geography of America’s Religious “Nones” | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Much has been written and said about the rapidly growing numbers of Americans who identify themselves as religious “nones,” i.e., atheists, agnostics, and “nothing in particular” religiously. But given that so many smart people have argued that America is the exception to the secularization that has swept western Europe in the past seven decades or so, it is worth highlighting the numbers. Drawing from the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study:

  • In 2014 23% of U. S. adults identify themselves as religious “nones,” which is a dramatic increase from just seven years before, when “nones” made up 16% of Americans.
  • Of Americans born between 1981 and 1996 (a.k.a., Millennials), 35% are atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular” religiously.
  • In 2014, the median age of the “nones” was 36, which is one decade younger than the median age of American adults.
  • As regards religious switching, four Americans have become “nones” for every one who has moved from being a “none” to being religiously affiliated.

Interestingly, there is a geography to the religiously nonaffiliated. Some of it is what one might expect. That is to say, there is a much higher concentration of the religious “nones” in New England, the Pacific Northwest, and the Mountain West (excluding, of course, Utah).

But take a look at the fascinating “Faithland” map below, created by using data from the 2010 Religious Data Archives that documents the percentage of religious adherents in each county in the United States. Look closely. Note the place that is not along the coasts and that is not in the West and that has a high concentration of “nones.”

Really? In our next post, we will talk about this demographic surprise.

Image of a diagram of a percentage of the amount of people who are religious across the country with blue being least religious and brown being most religious.

Faithland map, 2018. Created by Alex Egoshin using data provided by the Association of Religion Data Archives.