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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?

8 thoughts on “As American Religious “Nones” increase in Numbers, Here’s Why it Matters…”

  1. DrRGP says:

    I wonder, was any thought even to the ethics of wasting employers’ valuable time and money in reading and responding to bogus job applications?

    1. J Clifford says:

      Probably not as much thought as was given to the ethics of the system in which huge numbers of people have to beg for a job, only to have all but one of them waste their valuable time and money, walking away empty handed – and sometimes because of employers’ bigotry.

  2. Dave says:

    Call it bigotry if you want, J, but employers tend to look for “knowns” when seeking employees they can get stuck with. If they hire from a pool of applicants that represent say 70 percent from whom they can have even marginal expectations of stability (and religion tends to reflect at least marginally an adherance to societal norms) then blah blah blah … outa time … think about this: If an atheist employer is seeking job applicants, will he seriously consider the application of someone whose graduate work was in Old Testament studies at the Good Book University? Damn Bible thumpers.

  3. Julio says:

    The societal norms religion has represented include slavery, war, inequality of women, and child abuse, Dave.

    1. Dave says:

      Julio – and what societal norms have been represented by atheists? Did Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot represent them?

      1. Jim Cook says:


        Atheism is a lack of religious norms (a-theism), not an alternative set of norms.

        1. Dave says:

          Nature abhors a vacuum.

          1. Jim Cook says:

            Fortunately, peers at rival Science know better how to clean up the dust devils behind the desks.

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