Via Machines Like Us, I learned of a new survey that Gallup released last week that found that the number of Americans who self-identify as ‘nonreligious’ is an astounding 31%. This is much larger than what a Pew survey three months ago reported of 20% for self-identified ‘nones’ and that caused such consternation in religious circles.
The latest Gallup survey was massive, involving a sample size of over 320,000 (taken from January 2 to November 30, 2012) which should have a sampling error of less than 0.2%, though for some reason the report says it is 1%, which is still small.
Oddly enough, in the face of this data Frank Newport, Gallup Editor-in-Chief, argues in a new book God Is Alive and Well that religion poised for a resurgence. He seems to be basing his argument on the fact that older people are more religious than younger and that as the population ages, it will thus get more religious. But while that particular fact is true, his inference is false. Longitudinal studies have shown that while old people are more religious than young at any given time, shifts in religious attitudes as individuals age are small and that people tend to retain the religious beliefs that they have in their young adulthood. If anything, the data suggest that people shift slightly away from religion as they age.
I suspect that this extraordinarily rapid rise in recent times in the numbers of people who call themselves nonreligious is largely due to people becoming more comfortable revealing that they are not religious, not that there has been a huge shift from belief to nonbelief in individuals.