Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Atheism Has Lowest Retention Rate of Any Religion

Msgr Charles Pope on the Archdiocese of Washington blog has a post up linking to a post on 1964, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate blog out of Georgetown university, which looks at the retention rate of various religions and denominations: the percentage of people born into that belief system who continue to profess that same belief system as adults. The data that CARA is looking at comes from a Pew Forum survey in 2008 called the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. What this survey shows is that Hindus have the highest retention rate of any faith in the US with 84% of people raised Hindu still identifying as Hindu.  Greek Orthodox have the highest retention rate of any Christian church at 73% and Catholics rank higher than any Protestant denomination at 68%.  (Other data that I've seen, which fits well with this, has shown that people born Catholic are 1/3 practicing Catholics, 1/3 identifying as Catholic but no longer practicing and 1/3 no longer identifying as Catholic.  Most people undergo these changes between their teenage years and their 30s.)  The lowest ranking religious identifications in terms of retention are "nothing in particular" at 38% retention, Jehovah's Witnesses at 37%, Congregationalists at 37% and at the very bottom atheists at 30%.

It should be noted that the atheist sample is fairly small, and that the majority of people who identify as atheists as adults were not raised as atheists. CARA goes into detail as follows:

Some of the retention rates in the figure above were never provided in Pew's original report. These are calculated from the original data sets released by Pew for this study (one for the continental U.S. and another for Alaska and Hawaii). In these data there are 432 weighted respondents who say they were raised as Atheists. A total of 131 of these individuals self-identify as an Atheist at the time of the survey resulting in an estimated retention rate of 30%. However, there were a total of 1,387 Atheists (weighted) identified in the survey (equivalent to 1.6% of the adult population). What these findings reflect is that in the U.S. Atheists are for the most part "made" as adults after being raised in another faith. It appears to be much more challenging to raise one's child as an Atheist and have them maintain this identity in their life. Of those raised as Atheists, 30% are now affiliated with a Protestant denomination, 10% are Catholic, 2% are Jewish, 1% are Mormon, and 1% are Pagan.


Leah said...

It should also be noted that, as far as I can tell, people who switched from identifying as "atheist" to identifying as "None" or "agnostic" were counted as a loss, which seems questionable.

Darwin said...

That does seem mildly odd.

Also, those brought up as atheists only make up 10% of atheists surveyed, so I think there'd be some question as to whether their experience is representative or not.

Paul Zummo said...

As Msgr. notes in the comments, "none" does not necessarily mean no faith, but rather no specific denomination. In other words, they could be believers but they do not belong to a specific congregation.

Darwin said...

Yeah. I downloaded the Pew data to try to confirm that, and see how much trading there was between "nothing" and "atheist", but it's formatted in a .sav file intended to be read by SPSS statistics software, and I can't get it open. I did read through the codebook for the data, and it looks to me like CARA probably combined "agnostic", "spiritual but not religious", and "no opinion" into "nothing", but I can't say absolutely for sure without being able to get at all the data and see if the numbers add up.

Thesauros said...

"the majority of people who identify as atheists as adults were not raised as atheists"

but don't atheists tell us that we believe what we believe because of what our parents tell us to believe?
Or I suppose that only works for those who identify as Christians, cause we can't think for ourselves - right?

Thesauros said...

Do you take them to Church or allow them to be exposed to teaching about Jesus?

If not, do you think that says anything to them one way or the other about the importance of atheism over Christianity?

Do you make any comments about the Bible being fairy tales? Do you say anything positive about Jesus?

Again, if not do you think they are getting a balanced view of the options they have in life?

Do you tell them anything along the lines of science and education solving the world's problems or anything about religion being the cause of the world's problems?

Enbrethiliel said...


Anonymous's comment reminds me of a group blog by atheist mothers that I stumbled upon a few years ago. The post that struck me the most was by a mother who was worried about her son thinking of atheism merely as something in their family's culture, the way going to a certain vacation spot each year is part of a family's culture but has nothing to do with reason. Another mother left this comment: "When my son asked me, 'Mom, why doesn't our family believe in God?' I said, 'Because God doesn't exist.'" (Nice one, aye?)

It seems that the definition of parenting includes "pushing" some of one's beliefs onto one's children. The important ones, at least.

Paul Zummo said...

It's nice to believe that you're not "pushing" your ideas on your children, but I don't see how that's feasible if you actually interact with your children. Of course they are going to learn through their experiences with you what you believe, and they will be influenced by those experiences. And they will either learn to accept and embrace those beliefs, or they will rebel against them.

mary said...

"It's nice to believe that you're not "pushing" your ideas on your children, but I don't see how that's feasible if you actually interact with your children. "

But there is some truth to this. My terribly controlling and (later confirmed to be) mentally ill aunt did more to push me and my siblings away from faith than any atheist. She is the sort of person who leaves you feeling like you want to get away at any cost, and she is the most actively religious person I can imagine. I also think you need to meet your children where they are. Children with deep epistemological questions need serious theology and discussion, not anger and coercion.

mary said...

So my question is, "What are the Hindu's doing right?"