Is It Early To See A Rise In Second-generation Nones?


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According to the General Social Survey from 2018, 23.1% of all respondents said that they have no religious affiliation. That means that roughly a third of people don’t belong to any organized religion. Does this suggest that we are going to enter a future where more people grow up in non-religious homes? Maybe, but we must wait another 5-10 years.

Professor Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University has attempted to put some actual numbers to it using 2018 data from the General Social Survey:

“The number of adult nones nearly doubled from 1992 to 2002, while those raised nones were up about 50%. However, what might be even more interesting to me is if you look at the two lines from 2005 until 2018. In that period of time, the adult nones has risen nearly 10 percentage points, going from 14% to 23.1%. On the other hand, those raised as nones have seen a much smaller increase. In fact, if you disregard the significant bump in 2018 (which may be the start of a trend, or may be an outlier), there has been no statistically significant change in the number of people who were raised with no religion between 2006 and 2016. That’s puzzling to say the least.”

It’s not so much puzzling because it’s actually early to see a rise in second-generation Nones. Their kids would create that jump. Those are the people more likely to raise their children without religion. Many adults are leaving religion but they remain in their former churches for their kids. We won’t see this shift reflected in the data for at least another 5-10 years down the line.

As Friendly Atheists reports, it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that there was a huge push to get people away from religion — with more groups and resources popping up to help them out (on top of an internet-based support network.) So that next huge wave of Nones from about 14% then to 23% today includes a lot more people who are open and vocal and anti-religious.

Burge concludes:

“… those who say that they were raised with no tradition has not risen as quickly as I would have guessed. In addition, nones are getting older and are now just five years younger than the country, in general. That means that being a none is not just a young person’s fad, but it has become the reality of millions of Americans at every stage of life…

...this change is so new in the United States that we won’t have enough data to test it out for the foreseeable future. We are entering uncharted waters in American religion and no one really knows the way forward.”

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