Monday, July 23, 2012

More from the Religious ID Survey

The American Religious Identification Survey is done about once a decade and involves a large number of Americans (about 50 thousand) in a telephone poll about their religion.  The third such poll, done in 2008, was just released, and has a number of interesting points for UU’s to ponder.   The information can be found here:

Besides the points I covered yesterday (That fewer than half of those who identify as UU’s actually belong to a congregation, that that group is growing in number rather significantly and growing in diversity even faster than the American population is), here are some more points of interest in this survey.

1.  We’re migrating just like the rest of the population.   In 1990,  26% of us lived in the northeast and 23% of us lived in the Midwest,  while 21% of us lived in the south and 30% lived in the west.   In 2008,  only 19% of us lived in the NE and 17% of us lived in the Midwest,  while 24% of us are southerners and 40% are westerners.   We are only historically a New England congregation these days!  The great majority of UU’s live elsewhere.

2.     We’re aging faster than the population at large.  The median age of the population has increased from 40 to 44 years old over the study period, but increased from 44 to 52 years among those claiming to be Unitarian Universalists. (remember, half of these people don't belong to congregations.  However, most of our congregations appear to have aged in this time period.)

3.     We are more monolithically Democrats than we were in 1990, when about 18% of u were Republicans and 37% were Independents.  In 2008, only 6% of us were Republicans and 30% independents.  In 2008, the percentages were 6% Republicans and 30% Independents…a significant loss of diversity.  We have also seen this in congregational life. 

A small  percentage of respondents were asked  more detailed questions of their religious beliefs. The following data is suggestive but based on very small numbers of respondants, so is not statistically significant.

  1. 1.        77%  of self-identified UU’s told researchers that they believed in God, but of those, few believed in miracles or that God helps them in any way.  While this is very surprising to most UU's, it actually is not very far off from surveying I've done over the years in several congregations. 
  2. 2.     Fewer than half of the people researchers spoke to said that they were legal members of a UU congregation.  This is similar to what they found among other liberal religious groups.   
  3. 3.     About ½ of the sample UU’s had switched religions at some point in their lives.  (common wisdom among UU’s, however, is that 90% of UU’s  “came out” of some other faith.  This gives us a strong hint, it seems to me, about who identifies as UU but is not a member of a church…that is, the adult graduates of our RE programs.
  4. 4.     This study estimates that there are 100,000  people in the US who used to be UU’s but who are now something else, mostly, none.  (so the old joke about how Unitarian Universalism is a way station between the Mainline and the Golf Course seems to be true.)
  5. 5.     Over half of UU’s in this sample were in interfaith (or UU/no faith) households. 

In the last post of these series, I’ll comment more on the significance of these statistics.  


Bill Baar said...

I think people looking at outreach towards the 'nones' need to think about this one. If 'nones' are UUs on the path alway from us, why bother? They're lost to us.

This study estimates that there are 100,000 people in the US who used to be UU’s but who are now something else, mostly, none. (so the old joke about how Unitarian Universalism is a way station between the Mainline and the Golf Course seems to be true.)

Mark Erickson said...

I think point #5 is immensely important. Making spouses feel welcome (outreach) should be on every congregation's radar. It isn't enough that UU's non-doctrinal core makes it easier for split-faith households to pick UUism. If you build it, they will come couldn't be farther from the truth. Spouses with a different faith could be an entire ministry. Consider - if this sample holds up in the general population - that since there are many member married couples in UU congregations, that a great many of the non-member self-identifiers have a spouse of a different faith. Reaching all of them could increase membership by 20% to 30% I would guess.

Think how much more energy is needed for regular attendance, volunteering, donating, any type of involvement etc. for split-faith spouses.