Demographics of Atheism

On 7 December 2012 Atheist Alliance International, a global network of atheist and freethought groups and individuals, launched its so-called Atheist Census online, in order ‘to count and collect demographic information on the world’s atheists’. It was relaunched on 16 December following a denial of service attack on the census website, whose URL is:

http://www.atheistcensus.com/

Like many online surveys, the Census is based on a self-selecting sample of people volunteering to register their details, although, to guard against misuse, they cannot do so anonymously but have to provide an email address and validate their personal information by clicking on an email confirmation link. If they fail to do so, their submission is deleted after 24 hours. Of course, those possessing multiple email accounts can still make multiple returns.

Self-evidently, this methodology will not produce a random or otherwise scientifically representative body of data. Nevertheless, given the relative absence of quantitative research into non-religion, the results of the Census are not without interest, not least considering the large number of entries attracted thus far.

The Census is ongoing, with no apparent cut-off date, and the following tables of percentages have been generated from the database as it stood on 26 January 2013 (comprising 172,461 respondents globally, 12,215 of whom were from the UK).

Gender

 

UK

Global

Men

77.9

73.9

Women

21.6

25.5

Other

0.5

0.6

Atheists are disproportionately male, and particularly so in the UK.

Age

 

UK

Global

15-24

24.4

30.4

25-34

25.8

35.9

35-44

22.8

18.1

45-54

15.8

9.2

55-64

8.0

4.4

65+

3.3

2.0

Globally, two-thirds of atheists are adults aged 15-34, but in the UK the proportion is only one-half. All older age groups record more atheists in the UK than in the world, with 11% more for the 35-54s and 5% more for the over-55s.

Highest educational achievement 

 

UK

Global

Postgraduate

21.7

19.5

University or college

58.5

60.1

Trade qualification

7.1

6.0

Secondary

12.6

13.0

Primary

0.0

1.5

Four-fifths of atheists have been educated to tertiary level, the proportion being slightly higher in the UK than globally, especially for postgraduates.

Religious background 

 

UK

Global

Christianity excluding Catholicism

51.0

33.7

Catholicism

14.2

31.6

Islam

1.0

9.6

Judaism

0.9

2.2

Hinduism

0.5

2.1

Buddhism

0.0

0.7

Other religion

1.4

2.3

No religion

30.9

17.7

Only a minority of atheists have non-religious backgrounds, although this is more likely to be the case in the UK than globally. In both instances 65% have Christian backgrounds, albeit UK atheists are only half as likely to have been raised as Catholics. Very few UK atheists have non-Christian backgrounds. 

Self-description 

 

UK

Global

Atheist

69.7

63.6

Non-religious

7.5

7.7

Agnostic

2.9

7.4

Humanist

8.6

7.1

Freethinker

3.9

6.7

Rationalist

3.8

4.1

Secularist

1.4

1.5

Other

2.3

2.0

More UK atheists describe themselves as atheists than is the case in the world as a whole. Nevertheless, 30% prefer some alternative descriptor, humanist and non-religious being the most favoured.

There is a cautious reaction to the Census in Stewart Ware’s commentary in the current issue of the National Secular Society’s ezine at: 

http://www.secularism.org.uk/uploads/newsline-25-january-2013.pdf

 


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