A Report on the Childfree and Religious Affiliation

I recently had an announcement on the front page of this blog regarding the opportunity to participate in Nicole Ross’ survey project for a class of hers at the Canberra Institute of Technology. It is on religious affiliation in the childfree community. The results are in and the report complete; here are some highlights from her report:

  • There were 487 respondents who learned of the survey on SurveyMonkey through various channels on the internet
  • 80% were female, and 80% were between the ages of 21-39
  • 73% were from the United States
  • 75% have parents who adhere to some type of Christian religion
  • 70% report not holding any religious beliefs; 29% identify as religious
  • 79% report that their religious upbringing did not influence their decision not to have children

In her conclusion, Nicole indicates that the survey numbers indicate that “there is a positive relationship between individuals who are childfree by choice and absence of religious belief, and that atheists within the childfree community significantly outnumber atheists in the general population, at least in Australia and the United States.”

Kudos to Nicole for gathering data on the childfree and religion;  there has been a dire need for research in this area. Previous research has tended to show that those who choose not to have children are not particularly religious, and this survey seems to concur with this thinking.  Nicole takes it further and interestingly finds that most respondents don’t see their religious upbringing as influencing their childfree status.

Two clarifying points occur to me when reading her results:

1. Instead of childfree individuals in general, the survey numbers seem to indicate more specifically that there is a positive relationship between a certain slice of the childfree population–childfree women ages 21-39 in the United States with access to the internet, and absence of religious belief.

2.  The question, “Do you currently hold any religious beliefs?” does not automatically mean respondents would identify themselves as atheists.  Saying those who “do not belong to any religion” would also not automatically mean they would say they are atheists. I would like to have seen Question 4, “Please state your parents religion.” asked of respondents as well, so that they could self-report on this, and that the choice of  “atheist” instead of “no religion” be used instead on both questions.

This survey brought to mind what I learned about this when interviewing couples for Families of Two The age ranges of the couples at the time was between mid-twenties and mid-sixties, and most indicated they did not consider themselves particularly religious but a small minority said they considered themselves atheists.  Many of them did not belong to a church, or did not attend church regularly, but did hold Christian beliefs.

Makes me ponder the hypothesis, that the trend of childfree atheists has increased with Gen X and Y, when you compare to the generation before them. Some do believe there is a rise in atheism in general these days, in part due to the destructive effects we see resulting from fundamentalist religious fanaticism. As Richard Dawkins, says in The God Delusion, religion has consistently been a divisive and oppressive force in the world, and that sure is the case today.

What do you think–are the childfree more likely to be atheist? Or do more march to their own spiritual drum?

10 thoughts on “A Report on the Childfree and Religious Affiliation

  1. Laura, I have seen a significant rise in atheism over the last few years, mostly due to people’s being tired of organized religions telling them they basically have NO say in their sexual and reproductive choices. I know that I quit Catholicism over 20 years ago, and I still consider it one of the best decisions I ever made.

    I also believe there are more DAO (done after one) parents like myself who are either atheist or agnostic now than there were ten years ago. Since some of these old religions refuse to come into the 21st century and recognize the serious problems of overpopulation, I think more people will be leaving such religions and churches in the near future. Besides, who wants to be told by a bunch of clerics that they must “leave birth control up to God?” Certainly not me. I like making my OWN choices in such a personal matter, and many other folks do too.

  2. Speaking as a happily childfree non-believer, I’d say we’re just more comfortable marching to a different drum in all aspects of our lives. We have easily come to the realization that neither religious beliefs nor parenting are desired paths to happiness and/or making a positive contribution to the world. For some of us, it’s gardening. 🙂

  3. Speaking for as a childfree woman who does not claim any religion, I would say I march to my own spiritual drum, but am not atheist. Very interesting article and results.

  4. As an atheist since I was 13 years old (raised in a nominally Jewish household), I can say that being an atheist removes any religious pressure to procreate. However, my parents were not ones to inquire about or pressure others about this highly personal matter. Therefore, even if I had been more religious, I would not have been subject to additional pressure to procreate.

    But……given that I was always a bit of an outlier while growing up, often going against the crowd, being an atheist was an easy choice to make, just as being childfree was an easy choice to make 7 years later when I was 20 years old.

    1. Hi Deegee–good point re not believing in any kind of “god” that professes you must procreate can really take the pressure off to do just that. I hear from many childfree christians, including mormons who have a rough go of it, in terms of reconciling their choice not to have children and holding their religious beliefs, and dealing with those who just can’t accept their choice not to follow this part of “the word.” I often point them in the direction of http://childfreechristian.blogspot.com/

  5. TGal said it well. It’s not surprise that the childfree are more likely to be agnostic or athiest than the public in general. I know childfree people of faith but I think to most childfree people, the idea of faith is contrary to very important values, such as free, independent thought and open-mindedness, critical thinking, and individualism. I am so grateful that we live in a day and age (and in a country) where it is ok to not have children and not even want them, and where it is ok to openly reject religion.

  6. Although some of my beliefs might be considered “heretical,” I am a member of a Protestant church and my faith is really important to me. This makes me feel really alone, because at least on some CF communities I follow, it seems to be assumed that everyone is atheist or thinks all religion is ridiculous and religious people are morons. (Then again, that’s not just CF sites.) But on the other hand, I don’t identify with fundamentalist groups either, in terms of both theology and certain social ideals. Sometimes I feel like the only person like me.

  7. I tend to define atheism very narrowly, as someone who is very sure about the non-existence of God or gods. I’m more of an agnostic — I seriously doubt the existence of supernatural beings, but I’m just not sure one way or the other, and I’m not sure I care all that much one way or the other. I find some theological arguments more convincing than others, though never fully convincing. (When I look around, I’m willing to believe the universe is run by a dysfunctional, chaotic committee of powerful, psychotic beings. That has some explanatory power to me….)

    I’m not sure if this is connected with being childfree. This may be my own bias talking, but I tend to think people who think really critically about what they’re told are more likely to be atheist/agnostic and also more likely to be childfree. These are people who question the idea of doing something because it’s traditional or because everyone else is doing it.

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