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My recent TEDx Talk notes that the religiously unaffiliated account for about one-in-six (16%) people worldwide.

What I did not mention was that 76% of the religiously unaffiliated are concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region (see map). The remainder, according to a Pew Research study, are in Europe (12%), North America (5%), Latin America-Caribbean (4%), sub-Saharan Africa (2%), and the Middle East-North Africa (less than 1%).

Characteristics of the Religiously Unaffiliated
The same Pew Research study points out that the religiously unaffiliated include atheists, agnostics and people who do not identify with any particular religion in surveys. Many of the religiously unaffiliated, however, have some religious beliefs. For example, belief in God or a higher power is shared by 7% of Chinese unaffiliated adults, 30% of French unaffiliated adults and 68% of unaffiliated U.S. adults. Some of the unaffiliated also engage in various religious practices. For example, 7% of unaffiliated adults in France and 27% of those in the United States say they attend religious services at least once a year. And in China, 44% of unaffiliated adults say they have worshiped at a graveside or tomb in the past year, according to the Pew Research study.

Regions
Although a majority (76%) of the religiously unaffiliated live in Asia and the Pacific, only about one-in-five people (21%) in that region are unaffiliated, according to the study. More than one-in-six people in Europe (18%) and North America (17%) are religiously unaffiliated. The unaffiliated make up smaller shares in the remaining regions. For instance, the study finds that less than 1% of those who live in the Middle East-North Africa region are unaffiliated.

More than six-in-ten (62%) of all religiously unaffiliated people live in one country - China - according to the study. The largest populations of the religiously unaffiliated outside China are in Japan (6% of all unaffiliated), the United States (5%), Vietnam (2%) and Russia (2%).

Median Age
Also, perhaps surprisingly, the religiously unaffiliated worldwide are older (median age of 34) than the overall global population (median age of 28), according to the Pew Research study.

The United States
In the last five years alone, according to a study by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. This includes more than 13 million self-described atheists AND agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).

According to the Pew Forum study, this large and growing group of Americans is less religious than the public at large on many conventional measures, including frequency of attendance at religious services and the degree of importance they attach to religion in their lives.

However, the study finds that many of the 46 million unaffiliated adults in the United States are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.

With few exceptions, though, the study finds that the unaffiliated say they are NOT looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.

For theories on why the religious "nones" are growing, see the Pew Research Center's supplementary discussion.

 


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