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Fewest non-religious are in NE United States

The religiously unaffiliated are less engaged with durable social institutions.

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The Northeast has 20% of the religiously unaffiliated in the country. This translates into about 9.2 million people who do not identify with any particular religion. In comparison Western United States has a much higher percentage of the religiously unaffiliated, 30% of the “Nones,” meaning about 13.8 million people. The South has 28% of the Nones while the Midwest has 22%.

Today, the Pew Center is releasing the results of their “’Nones’ on the Rise” study done in cooperation with PBS-TV’s Religion and Ethics News Weekly. The project also drew upon previous PEW, General Social Survey and Gallup studies. According to Pew, the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow. In 2007 15% of the nation said that they had no religious affiliation. “One-fifth of the United States public—and a third of adults under thirty—are religiously unaffiliated today,” the Center says. The telephone survey of 2973 adults conducted last summer asked, “What is your current religion, if any?” Nones are those who answered “nothing in particular,” atheist” or “agnostic.”

However, the northeast, including New York, is the most religiously affiliated region of the nation and has the smallest number of atheists (21% of the national total versus the West which has 33% of the atheists). The relatively high religious affiliation in the Northeast indicates that the rise of postsecular New York City is part of a greater regional trend.

[Note: in 2014, PEW released figures for the NYC metropolitan area based on interviews with 1786 adults. 24% of adults in NYC said that they were Nones while 27% of NY state adults said that they were Nones. To use an analogy, NYC metro area is the Bible belt while NY state is lapsing into secularism. NYC metro area has significantly smaller portion of Nones than does the allegedly Bible-belted South.]

John Green, an advisor to the project, told A Journey through NYC religions, that the New York City area is likely to have fewer religious “Nones” because of the vitality of religions among the region’s immigrants. “Context matters,” he said. “In the northeast there are more immigrants, a high proportion who are religiously affiliated.” Nationally, Green pointed out that the Nones tend to be young and white.

The proportion of Nones among Hispanics is not growing, and among African Americans growing at a much slower rate than among Whites.



% of Nones among ethnic/racial groups


                                                          2007       2012

          Whites                                     15%           20%

          Hispanics                               16%          16%

         African Americans             13%          15%  




A Journey has found that many of the new evangelical churches in the city are also benefitting from a noticeable trend of religious reconfirmations among migrants from other parts of the United States. The more religious context in the city makes it socially more acceptable for native New Yorkers to try out religious options.

The religiously affiliated and unaffiliated do not differ much in their educational or income levels.

Having no particular religious affiliation does not mean non-religious. The majority of Nones in the country are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds say that they believe in God or a higher spirit, and one in five pray every day. Most esteem churches and other religious organizations for their benefits to society through their strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor. The younger Nones are not hostile to religion but do part ways with religious involvements in politics and opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

According to PEW, the Nones are becoming as an important building block for the Democrats as the evangelical Christians are for the Republicans. Green says, “The unaffiliated vote may have been the difference in 2008” that provided Obama victory.

Nones seem to be less engaged with durable social institutions. People without religious affiliation are significantly more likely than the general public to say that they don’t find it important to belong to a community that shares their values and beliefs. 31% say that a shared value community is not important. In contrast only 16% of the general public share this devaluation of the importance of community. Regardless of age, Nones are less likely to be married. In other surveys PEW has also found that Americans who are not active in religious organizations are also less likely to be involved in all types of voluntary and community groups. In fact Nones may be increasingly isolated from experiencing any religious social life, at least as measured by worship attendance. In 2012 29% more Nones than in 2007 seldom or never attend worship services.

  • I would have never guessed. I have lived in the New England area for the past 18 years and religion is the most unspoken, or private topic in social circles. I grew up in the south and lived in various southern states for the first 35 years of my life. Everyone talks about their religion in the south. Interesting.

  • Bob, you are right. There is wonderfully much to digest in this study. One little noticed point that PEW makes is that the story is really the conversion of the Nominals (nominally religious") to the Nones. Previously, there was a substantial group of people who identified with one religion or another but didn't practice their religion very much. Around 70% of the Nominals never went to a worship a service during the year. Likewise, the Nones have almost identical religious practices. A little over 70% of the Nones never go to a worship service during the year.

    PEW mentions this transition from Nominals to Nones in their report. Their explanation is that it has become more socially acceptable to not have a standard religious affiliation. However, their study was not designed to prove this causal theory. In other words the PEW survey didn't ask questions from their respondents about the social pressure to identify with a religion.

    We incline toward Robert Putnam's explanation that Americans are becoming less likely to be attached to any social or institutional group. We state, "Nones seem to be less engaged with durable social institutions." What we are seeing is social change that affects all institutions including religious ones.

  • It would take a month to seriously digest this study, but one interesting statistic I found is that 18% of those who consider themselves "affiliated" rarely or never attend church.

  • Thanks to Journey thru NYC Religions, for posting a note about this report.

    Interestingly, the "Bible belt" South has a higher percentage of people unaffiliated with any religion, 28%, than does either the Northeast, 20%, or the Midwest, 22%. The West leads with 30% "None".

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