Atheism on the Rise

A new study indicates significant shifts in the nation’s religious composition, with mainstream faith groups stagnating, and the numbers of those who profess no religion on the rise.

The American Religious Identification Survey 2001 was carried out under the auspices of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and is considered a follow-up study of a 1990 census. The poll utilized a sample of over 50,000 randomly selected respondents, and was described as “the most comprehensive portrait of religious identification in the U.S. today.” It revealed, for instance, that while the numbers of Roman Catholics increased since 1990 from 46 million to nearly 50.8 million, their percentage of the population fell nearly two points. Protestants and other non-Catholic groups remain the majority, but their proportion slipped sharply from 60% to 52%. And those identifying with a non-Christian religion jumped from 5.8 million to 7.7 million, but reflected only 3.7% of the population.

The survey and news reports about the study, though, noted that one of the most significant findings involved growth in that segment of the adult population “identifying with no religion.” In 1990, 14.3 million or roughly 8% identified with this category. The new ARIS count now shows that the non-believer population has grown to 29.4 million, roughly 14.1% of the American community.

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