Religion and Social Trends

Religion Most Important to Blacks, Women, and Older Americans

Self-reported importance of religion decreases with education

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A little less than 6 in 10 Americans say that religion is very important in their lives, while 26% say religion is fairly important and 16% say that religion is not very important. These results from Gallup's Fall update on religion are not materially different from the pattern observed over the past several years. According to yearly averages going back more than a decade, between 57% and 61% of Americans have reported that religion is very important in their lives. The percentage of Americans who reported that religion was very important in their lives was slightly lower between 1978 and 1989, but was significantly higher in surveys conducted in 1965 and in 1952.

How important would you say religion is in your own life -- very important, fairly important, or not very important?

 


Very


Fairly

Not very

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2006 Sep 15-17

57

26

16

1

2006 May 8-11

56

28

16

*

 

 

 

 

Yearly averages

 

 

 

 

2005

59

25

16

*

2004

59

24

16

1

2003

61

24

15

*

2002

60

27

13

*

2001

58

28

14

*

2000

59

29

12

*

1999

59

29

11

1

1998

61

27

12

1

1997

60

27

12

1

1996

57

28

15

*

1995

58

29

12

1

1994

58

29

12

1

1993

59

29

12

*

1992

58

29

12

1

1991

58

29

13

*

1990

58

29

13

*

1989

55

30

14

1

1988

54

31

14

1

1987

53

32

14

1

1986

55

30

14

1

1985

55

31

13

1

1984

56

30

13

1

1983

56

30

13

1

1982

56

30

13

1

1981

56

29

14

1

1980

55

31

13

1

1978

52

32

14

2

1965

70

22

7

1

1952 ^

75

20

5

*

* Less than 0.5%

^ Ben Gaffin and Associates

In order to gain insights into variations in self-reported importance of religion across subgroups of the American population, Gallup aggregated more than 11,000 interviews in which this question has been asked over the past four years. The following sections of this analysis look at some of the more interesting relationships derived from this large, aggregated dataset.

Age

Religion is highly correlated with age. Older Americans are much more likely than younger Americans to say that religion is very important in their lives.

The most significant differences in self-reported importance of religion come at the extreme ends of the age spectrum. Less than half of Americans between age 18 and 29 say that religion is very important, while more than one-fifth say it is not important. By sharp contrast, more than 70% of those age 65 and older say religion is very important in their lives, while only 9% say that it is not important.

There is little significant difference between 30- to 49-year-olds and 50- to 64-year-olds in self-reported importance of religion.

As is usually the case when considering age, one is faced with considerations of a cohort versus generation effect. It is reasonable to assume that older Americans have functional or rational reasons for embracing religion, given that they have seen more of life's frustrations and sorrows, and that they are nearing life's endpoint of death. At the same time, data show that all Americans were more religious decades ago than they are now, making it reasonable to assume that those who are older today may have acquired their religion at an early age in a way that will not be duplicated as the current younger cohort of Americans ages.

Gender

Religion is more important to women than it is to men.

Women are more likely than men to say that religion is very important in their lives (66% to 51%), and are less likely than men to say that religion is not very important (10% to 20%).

Women on average live longer than men, so it is possible that some of this basic relationship between gender and importance of religion could be explained by underlying age dynamics.

But a detailed analysis shows that the gender difference in self-reported importance of religion is evidenced across all age groups.

There is very little interaction between age and gender. In other words, gender has an effect on importance of religion regardless of the age group involved. There is a 13-point difference in self-reported importance of religion among 18- to 29-year-olds, a 13-point difference among 30- to 49-year-olds, a 16-point difference among 50- to 64-year-olds, and a 15-point difference among those 65 and older.

Education

Americans become progressively less likely to say religion is very important in their lives as their level of educational attainment increases.

This relationship is particularly pronounced in the contrast between those with a high school education or less compared to those with post-graduate degrees. Just half of those with post-graduate educations say that religion is very important in their lives, compared to almost two-thirds of those with high school educations or less.

Again, as was the case with gender, it seems reasonable to ask if there is an underlying age factor involved in this basic relationship. The average level of educational attainment decreases with age; i.e., younger Americans are more likely to have attended college than those who are older. Since self-reported importance of religion also increases with age, could it be that age is the major factor involved here?

A detailed analysis suggests that this is not the case for the most part. Self-reported importance of religion is lower among those with college and post-graduate educations than it is among those with high school educations or less within each of the three major age groups above the age of 30. There is less of a relationship between education and importance of religion among the 18- to 29-year-old age group. This may reflect the fact that many of these individuals are still involved in the educational process and may not have obtained their highest level of education, making such measures less relevant.

Income

Since education and income are highly correlated, it is not surprising to find that as income increases, self-reported importance of religion decreases -- as is the case for education.

About half of those with incomes greater than $75,000 a year say religion is very important, compared to two-thirds of those with incomes of less than $20,000.

Race and Ethnicity

Non-Hispanic blacks in America are much more likely than whites, white Hispanics, or Asians to say that religion is very important in their lives.

The high degree of importance of religion among African-Americans in the United States today is dramatic. Eighty-five percent of blacks say that religion is very important in their lives, the highest such percentage in any demographic group analyzed in this research. Fifty-six percent of non-Hispanic whites say religion is very important, identical to the 56% of Hispanics who identify as whites who say religion is very important (only English-speaking Hispanics were included for most surveys in which these data were collected; it is possible that Hispanics in the United States who only speak Spanish are more religious). Asians are less likely than these races and ethnicities to say that religion is important.

Region

Religion is most important to those living in the South, slightly less important to those living in the Midwest, and least important to those living in either the East or the West parts of the country.

More than 7 in 10 Americans living in the South say religion is very important to them, making it by far the most religious region in the country. About 6 in 10 Americans living in the Midwest say religion is very important. Only about half of those living in the East and West say that religion is very important.

All in all, the West is the least religious region of the country, with 48% of those living in that region saying religion is very important and 23% saying it is not very important.

Survey Methods

These results are based on an aggregated dataset of telephone interviews with randomly selected national samples of more than 11,000 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted between 2002 and 2006. For results based on this large aggregated sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±1 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.

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/25585/religion-most-important-blacks-women-older-americans.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030