The following the second in a three part series first published on Rev. Christine Robinson’s blog, iminister

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.

Besides the points I covered Wednesday (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 to the Sunbelt just like the rest of the population. In 2001, 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 in the UUA.
  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.

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 respondents, so is not statistically significant.

  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.  So while it seems that this particular sample over-represents theists in our midst, in other ways, the sample sounds pretty UU.
  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. 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 graduates of our RE programs.
  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. 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.


Guest  Blogger

Rev. Christine Robinson has been the minister of First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, New Mexico since 1988. She describes herself as a “human being, mom, Unitarian Universalist minister, wife, friend, intrigued with technology and how it can help us minister to each other and our world.”

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  1. Diggitt McLaughlin

    My own experience may be illustrative of something. I was “raised UU”–that is, my parents took me to Unitarian Sunday School almost from birth. I could have joined the church at 16 but waited until I was almost 21 (even though I was youth group president), but still attended most Sundays and absolutely identified as UU. I moved at age 23 to San Francisco and immediately joined a UU church there, but was a pledging unit for only two years before moving to Europe, where I lived for a number of years. I called myself UU but was not a signed-the-book-and-pledged-every-year member anywhere.

    That pattern has repeated during my subsequent adult years. I did not sign the book and start pledging at my home congregation until I had attended regularly for five years. During that time I led a major social action project–and probably would not have actually signed the book when I did, except that I wanted to be on the search committee for a new minister!–and, of course, had to be a member for that purpose. Incidentally, my husband and I pledged although we were not members. So I was seen as committed, and understood myself to be committed, but was not on the UUA’s books as a UU.

    As a ministerial student I now understand the concepts involved in membership. I puzzle over whether we (and read “we” how you will. Do I mean UU pledging units, or people who try to understand religious identity surveys?) need to refine our definitions a bit. It seems that the great American public has a different understanding of religious identity than do we who need to count pledging units for sheer survival. We may still need to be that precise, but we should add that fudge factor to our thinking as we do so.

    If we were able to study those who claim to be UU but are not members, perhaps we would gain information that would be useful in converting them to pledging units. On a seminarians’ listserv, we have mentioned the clash of cultures between members of the corporation and the emotional identity, but the conversation hasn’t really gone anywhere–because where can we take it?


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