Atheists Are Just 2% of the Population, but 59% of Americans Claim to Know One July 17, 2014

Atheists Are Just 2% of the Population, but 59% of Americans Claim to Know One

Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released data concerning the relative popularity of various religious groups. There’s still a lot to learn from the data, so today they released an article answering the question: “How many people of different faiths do you know?”

This question is incredibly important for atheists, because we know the stigma against us evaporates as people get to know us better. And it turns out that, despite being only 2% of the population, 59% of Americans know someone who doesn’t believe in a god:

That puts us right in line with Jewish people when it comes to familiarity. It’s also a testament to the fact that atheists don’t congregate in certain parts of the country. If you live in Utah, you undoubtedly know a Mormon; that may not be the case if you live in, say, Alabama. Similarly, Muslims and Hindus tends to live predominantly in/around certain large cities, and beyond those, you may not meet very many at all.

But atheists live all over the place. You can’t escape us. (*Evil laugh*)

As I said yesterday, that 59% familiarity is very likely an underestimate. So many atheists remain in the closet that the vast majority of Americans probably *do* know an atheist. They just don’t know that they know an atheist.

Here’s what surprises me, though: Who are these people who don’t know any evangelical Christians or Catholics? Are they sheltered, unaware, or living in parts of the country where religion isn’t foisted upon them?

Michael Lipka summarizes the findings (emphases his):

All together, the average American personally knows members of at least four of the eight religious groups included in the survey. In general, whites tend to know people in more groups (four) than do blacks (three). And there is a gap between people with a college degree – who know, on average, members of five different religious groups – and those with only a high school diploma or less education, who know someone in an average of three groups. There is virtually no difference, however, between Republicans and Democrats on this measure (four groups each).

In our panel’s answers, we noticed a pattern that holds across all religious groups: Americans who know a member of a group tend to rate that group more positively. For example, among those who know an atheist, the average rating of atheists is 50; among those who don’t know an atheist, it’s 29. And among those who know a Buddhist, the average rating of Buddhists is 70. The comparable rating by those who don’t know a Buddhist is 48.

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