Children of atheists

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algebe's picture
Children of atheists

Somebody suggested in this forum that only 30% of the children of atheists remain atheists, and that 70% revert to various religions. This claim came without any attribution, so I did a little digging. It appears in a discussion the Quora website (, where it is properly attributed to Pew Research (

The 30% figure is based on research carried out in 2008 and applies only the United States.

A number of factors need to be taken into account when we consider this figure.

First, unlike Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists do not generally pressure their children to adopt or maintain a particular religious stance.
Second, the figure applies only the United States. Totally different results are likely from Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Australasia, Japan, etc.
Third, there is no proof that atheist children who stop being atheists become Christians, etc. A significant number of people put "joke" religions, such as Jedism and Pastafarianism, on census forms these days. They would be counted as "non-atheist."
Fourth, even the children of atheists in the US are constantly bombarded with Christian propaganda at school, on TV, on money, and from their friends (and friends' parents). The children of Christians are not bombarded with atheist propaganda.

My wife and I have raised two children as atheists, and our children still share that view, although we never imposed it on them. In fact, we encouraged them to learn about religions and make their own minds up.

What do others think?

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dresmith's picture
It was a false claim by a

It was a false claim by a zealot. It doesn't hold with recent polling.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
Only your third factor would

Only your third factor would need to be taken account of, as far as the accuracy of the percentage goes. But seeing how neither Jedism nor Pastafarian has statistics anywhere on the site, I doubt those options were part of the poll.

As someone whose studied in the Public School system here in the US, I can testify that nobody is bombarded by Christian propaganda. The schools themselves are pretty secular, and the students couldn't care less, they don't go to discuss religion. As far as TV goes, nobody watches TV anymore, only Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, etc. Don't remember seeing much propaganda on there.

algebe's picture
Netflix? I recently clicked

Netflix? I recently clicked on Netflix documentary about the geological history of the Grand Canyon. It was in the science section. About five minutes in two geologists began to talk about how it was created in a few days by Noah's flood. YouTube's full of propaganda of all sorts.

I don't think Pew did its own polling. They cite other research organizations as sources. That's the trouble, isn't it. Someone puts these figures out, but often it's almost impossible to track down exactly where they came from and how they were compiled. But they appear in the media, and people accept them as true.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
That's not propaganda. I've

That's not propaganda. I've seen documentaries on there about aliens. Just enjoy the shows you want to watch, and if you don't like something watch something else. You shouldn't be considering documentaries to be anything more that entertainment anyway. Watching those things are precisely what do the thing you're warning against in this post lol. Education and Television mix about as well as oil and water.

I do agree that people often take statistics as truth, and its a huge problem.

LogicFTW's picture
You got to consider: if 70

You got to consider: if 70 percent of atheist children end up not atheist, then how is there still any atheist at all? If each new generation is 25 years, (we are talking over the course of the last few hundred years.)

If this stat were true, atheist people would of gone nearly extinct. If there was 1 million atheist 200 years ago in the US, (roughly 1/5 the entire population of the US back then) there would only be 65 atheist in the entire country today. We all know that is not true.

algebe's picture

The statistic (or at least the way it was bandied about here) is totally misleading. People don't just become atheists by being born into atheist families. Most of the people in this forum grew up as Christians, Muslims, etc., and made their escapes to rationality as adults. So atheist/irreligious populations are still growing.

In any case, what's an atheist family and atheist children?

LogicFTW's picture
Agree, just wanted to keep it

Agree, just wanted to keep it in context of how it was used, particularly damning in that scenario.

I find the question what is atheist children, as interesting.
When does a child's mind become complex enough to not be an atheist?

David_Holloway's picture
I saw that comment, and

I saw that comment, and called it out as bullshit.

The_Hyphenator's picture
@John 6IX Breezy

@John 6IX Breezy

Maybe not where you went to school; I can't speak to your experience. However, having grown up I the Bible Belt, I can tell you that in my public school experience, there were plenty of students talking about religion, forming Christian clubs, wearing religious/church merch, inviting people to church events, etc. It's true that, in my school at least, there was no school-sanctioned religious material (aside from relevant lessons in history classes, art classes, etc.), but there was plenty of propaganda floating around regardless. And I went to a fairly large urban school; I know smaller schools in smaller towns slid that kind of crap under the radar because there wasn't a significant enough non-Christian contingent to complain about it.

And that's not even touching on all the religious advertising you find outside of schools (billboards, TV and radio commercials, "Hell House" Halloween events) and outright proselytizing that occurs in the non-scholastic world at large. There is an abundance of Christian propaganda out there, and kids of all faiths are exposed to it every day.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
You and I have a very

You and I have a very distinct definitions of what propaganda is then. People have a right be religious, and to be so publicly and in your face. Just like you can be atheist in people's faces too.

Idk, I just don't care perhaps.

Keep in mind its not as simple as saying "Christian" propaganda. I may be Christian, but I belong to a particular denomination for a reason. The JW's and LDS's that come knocking at my door might as well be Muslims and Buddhist their beliefs are so different from mine. Catholics and the "Evangelicals" that make most of these commercials and billboards, have little in common with me.

Their beliefs and commercials don't affect me, so perhaps I just don't notice them.

My question is why does it seem like you are unable to do the same?

algebe's picture
@John 61X Breezy: "My

@John 61X Breezy: "My question is why does it seem like you are unable to do the same?"

I can. I'm just questioning the validity of this particular statistic and the meaning that some people attach to it.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
You replied to the wrong

You replied to the wrong comment.

But fine, just remember that by questioning its validity, you inevitably question the validity of your own explanations for it. Your propaganda hypothesis becomes nonsense by invoking it to explain a statistic that isn't true. No better evidence of bias than being skeptical of something you want to be false, but simultaneously ready with rationalizations in case it happens to prove true.

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