How Many Atheists… Really?

It’s interesting to me how often the subject of atheists has come up in conversation lately. Maybe it’s because I just re-read the final edit of my book titled CONNECT, a book that devotes an entire chapter on the type of kid I call the “No-Way-Kid,” a kid who is quick to tell you, “There is no way you’ll ever find me in church!”

Youth workers keep asking me about these types of kids. It seems that I’ve been hearing a lot of conjecture about the growing number unbelieving kids.

Notice the semantics there… I didn’t say “atheists.” We have to be careful with our word choice. If we were talking about atheists… the numbers are much smaller.

How many athiests are there really in the U.S. right now?

Do you want the quick answer? 1.6 percent. That’s right. Not even two percent. Check it out yourself on the chart on page 5 of this “Religious Landscape Study” from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Now, if we expand that definition to include anyone who is “unaffiliated” with any religion, then that percentage would grow to 16.1 percent. That includes atheists, agnostics and those who simply refer to themselves as generally “unaffiliated” with any faith.

If you want to take a closer look at young people specifically, check out the chart on page 40 from the same study. You’ll find that 25 percent of 18-29 year olds (the youngest group surveyed) claimed “unaffiliated,” with 3% claiming to be atheist and 4% claiming agnostic.

25% sounds a little bigger. Think about it. 25% of 18-29 year olds claim no affiliation with any religion.

This is a slight increase from previous data. David chimes in on this increase, looking at this study and others in this week’s Youth Culture Window article.

This isn’t our first article about this study. I referred to it in a blog about the changing U.S. religious beliefs, and David referred to it before in his article about shrinking church attendance.

I encourage you to check out those articles and studies first hand (each article links the original studies so you can investigate it yourself). Fascinating stuff!

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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One Response to How Many Atheists… Really?

  1. Kenn Todd says:

    Really interesting. Today it is truly pointless to ask someone if they believe in God unless we define our terms. Which God? What is it you believe about this God? Yes we may have very few atheists but it is nothing to rest in. It reminds me of Paul at the Areopagus, lets tell them about This Unknown God.
    Keep the Faith and Give it Away