Six in Ten Americans Read Bible at Least Occasionally

by Alec Gallup and Wendy W. Simmons

Percentage of frequent readers has decreased over last decade


PRINCETON, NJ – According to a recent Gallup poll, about six in ten Americans (59%) say they read the Bible at least on occasion, with the most likely readers being women, nonwhites, older people, Republicans, and political conservatives. Readership of the Bible has declined from the 1980s overall, from 73% to 59% today. And the percentage of frequent readers, that is, those who read the Bible at least once a week, has decreased slightly over the last decade, from 40% in 1990 to 37% today. About one American in seven reports an involvement that goes beyond reading the Bible. Fourteen percent currently belong to a Bible study group. In terms of frequency of readership, 16% of Americans say that they read the Bible every day, 21% say they read it weekly, 12% say they read the Bible monthly, 10% say less than monthly and 41% say that they rarely or never read the Bible.

Relevance of the Bible
Sixty-five percent of Americans agree that the Bible "answers all or most of the basic questions of life." Almost half of people who believe this about the Bible read it at least weekly. Interestingly, 28% of those who agree with this say they rarely or never read the Bible. Those with more education are less likely to think that the Bible is a comprehensive guide to life than are the less educated. Forty-six percent of those with a postgraduate degree say the Bible answers basic life questions, compared to 72% of those with a high school education or less.

Many Americans report that they would like to learn more about the Bible. Thirty-five percent say they are "very interested" in deepening their understanding of the Bible and 40% say they are "somewhat interested." Twenty-four percent of respondents report no interest in learning more about the Bible. Those who report the highest levels of interest in the Bible include women and people from the southern part of the United States.

Bible Study Groups
Although about six in ten Americans report reading the Bible at least on occasion, most of these people are exploring the text without the help of a Bible study group of any kind. Only 14% of Americans report that they are currently in such a group. Women are slightly more likely than men to be in a study group (18% vs. 10%).

What Is Distinctive About Bible Readers?
Bible readership varies significantly by a number of important subgroups. For example:

  • Women are much more likely than men to read the Bible at least weekly. About 43% of women say that they read the Bible either weekly or daily, compared to 29% of men.
  • Marital status has little relationship with readership of the Bible. Thirty-eight percent of people who are currently married read the Bible at least once a week, compared to 35% of those who are not married.
  • White Americans are less likely to read the Bible than are nonwhite Americans. Forty-two percent of whites say they rarely or never read the Bible, compared to 32% of nonwhites.
  • Older people are more likely to read the Bible than are younger people. Fifty percent of those over the age of 65 read the Bible at least weekly, compared to 27% of people between the ages of 18 and 29. Thirty-six percent of people in their 30s and 40s read the Bible that frequently.
  • Political attitudes also appear to shape Bible-reading tendencies. Forty-seven percent of Republicans say they read the Bible at least weekly, compared to 32% of Democrats. Conservatives are more likely than moderates and liberals to read the Bible frequently.

Bible Readership
How often do you read the Bible – daily or more often, monthly, less than monthly, or rarely or never?
% Saying "Daily or Weekly"

± 3% Margin of Error
October 6-9, 2000
Sample Size=1,052

Favorite Books of the Bible
When Americans are asked to name their favorite books of the Bible, eight books are mentioned by 2% or more of those interviewed, split equally between Old and New Testament books. Psalms is the most popular, named by 13%, followed by Genesis (9%), Matthew (7%), John (6%), Revelation (6%), Proverbs (3%), Job (2%), and Luke (2%). The book of Mark is the only one of the four Gospels in the New Testament not mentioned by 2% or more of Americans.

Survey Methods

The results reported here are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,024 adults, 18 years and older, conducted October 6-9, 2000. For results based on the whole sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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