Friday, July 29, 2011

Adult religious affiliation among those with no religion as teenagers

Do children with no religion remain that way as adults, or do they eventually join up with some religion?

Out of those who had no religion at age 16, I calculated the percent who still had no religion in their 20s, 30s, 40s, etc. I also computed the percent who had switched to Protestantism--by far the most popular choice.

Percent of all those with no religion at 16

Ages 20-29
Stayed unaffiliated 67.6
Switched to Protestant 22.1

Ages 30-39
Stayed unaffiliated 54.4
Switched to Protestant 33.5

Ages 40-49
Stayed unaffiliated 48.4
Switched to Protestant 37.1

Ages 50-59
Stayed unaffiliated 37.8
Switched to Protestant 44.6

Ages 60-69
Stayed unaffiliated 36.7
Switched to Protestant 52.3

Ages 70-79
Stayed unaffiliated 30.9
Switched to Protestant 58.3

Ages 80-89
Stayed unaffiliated 26.2
Switched to Protestant 59.5

While two-thirds still had no affiliation in their 20s, by the end of their lives all but 26 percent had switched, and 60 percent of the total had joined some Protestant denomination.

(In order to maximize sample size, all survey years since 1973 were used, so age groups are from multiple cohorts.)


  1. Jonathan11:38 AM

    I'm curious to see what the reverse is: Adult religious affiliation among those WITH religion as teenagers.

  2. Is this GSS data?

  3. Anonymous8:44 PM

    It seems to me that there are two possible reasons for the trend (and it might be some of both): steady attrition and changing norms.

    If steady attrition is the primary cause, one would expect that in a GSS survey 60 years from now, the numbers from the 80-89 category would look much the same, whereas if changing norms played a bigger role, that age group would look more like they do now (i.e. the current 20-29 category).

    The attrition explanation has some intuitive backing: more time gives one more time to change one's mind. Those in their 20s are on the order of a decade separated from being 16 years old, while older cohorts have had more time to change their minds.

    However, given the increase in the portion of the population identifying as atheist in recent decades, a changing norms explanation seems likely to hold some influence as well.

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