As American Religious “Nones” increase in Numbers, Here’s Why it Matters…
According to the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Survey, the share of Americans who identify themselves as “atheist,” “agnostic,” or “nothing in particular” has jumped from 16.1% to 22.8% in the last seven years.
The increasing share of religious “Nones” matters because lack of religion is a basis for discrimination in this country. Michael Wallace, Bradley R. E. Wright and Allen Hyde of the University of Connecticut published the results of a field experiment last year, for which they sent out thousands of fictional job applications to employers in the American South. These applications were paired up so that employers were sent fictional applications of comparable quality, varying only in the name of a religious [or atheist] extracurricular club to which the applicant belonged. This club membership signaled the fictional applicant’s religion. For a control group, some fictional applications made mention of no religious or irreligious club affiliation.
The results of the experiment: Southern employers made a phone call or sent an e-mail message in response to 18.2% of job applications that didn’t mention religious or irreligious club affiliation. If an application mentioned membership in an Evangelical Christian club, employers responded at a rate that wasn’t statistically significantly different from that. But if an application of the same quality mentioned membership in an atheist club, employers only called back 12.0% of the time, a margin of discrimination that is both substantively and statistically significant.
According to Pew’s Religious Landscape Surveys, the share of people in the American South who are religious “nones” climbed from 13% in 2007 to 19% in 2014. As religious “nones” continue to grow in numbers in the American South, will they continue to encounter the discrimination that Michael Wallace and his colleagues documented? Or will this growth in numbers finally lead to greater acceptance?