Now that we’ve documented the nones as the fastest-growing and now third-largest religious constituency in the United States—constituting one of every five Americans—who are they? Studies reveal that they are not made up of seekers who are looking for a spiritual home but simply haven’t found it yet (more on that later). Nor are they products of a hostile college system intent on a secular indoctrination, real as that may be. Surveys show that religious affiliation is declining among Americans who do not have college degrees as well as among college graduates.
Here’s the real snapshot of who a none is.1
1. Male. Though fewer than half of Americans are male, 56 percent of nones are male. The gender divide among nones who are atheists or agnostics is even more pronounced: 64 percent of this group is male.
2. Young. The older the American, the more likely he or she is to be affiliated with a religion. One-third of Americans under thirty say they have no religious affiliation, compared to 9 percent of those sixty-five and older. This is mostly due to “generational replacement” as a younger generation assumes the place of an older one that is decidedly more religious.
3. White. Of all nones, 71 percent are white, 11 percent are Hispanic, 9 percent are black, and 4 percent are Asian. If you narrow the pool to just agnostics and atheists, the group is even whiter: 82 percent.
4. Not necessarily an atheist. The largest group of nones (68 percent) say they believe in God or a universal spirit. Within that group, 30 percent of them are certain God exists. Only 27 percent of nones say there is no God.
5. Not very religious. This may sound obvious, but it makes the distinction between a person who has no religious affiliation, and one who is not religious. There are some nones who do consider themselves religious—just outside the confines of a religious organization. Nearly three-quarters of nones (72 percent) seldom or never attend religious services.
6. A Democrat. Nones are among the most reliably Democratic of voters. In 2008, three-quarters of them voted for Barack Obama and 23 percent for John McCain, making them as strongly Democratic as white evangelicals were Republican. More than six in ten of those who are registered voters are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party.
7. In favor of abortion and same-gender marriage being legal. Big gaps separate nones and Americans in general on these issues. While 53 percent of the general public say abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances, 72 percent of the unaffiliated do. And while at the time of the study 48 percent of the general public favored same-sex marriage, 73 percent of nones did.
8. Liberal or moderate—and not just on the issues above. More than three-quarters of nones describe themselves as generally liberal or moderate, compared to the one in five who call themselves conservative.
9. Not necessarily hostile toward religious institutions. He or she just doesn’t want to belong to one. More than half of the nones (52 percent) say religious institutions protect and strengthen morality, though an even greater proportion (70 percent) believe these institutions are too concerned with money and power.
10. Most likely a westerner. In the U.S., nones are most concentrated in the West and least concentrated in the South. While 23 percent of Americans live in the West, 30 percent of nones do.
James Emery White, Rise of the Nones, the: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014).