Losing Our Religion: Is the Internet to Blame?Gina Vaynshteyn

New research shows that more and more of us are not identifying with a religion. According to MIT, only 8% of the US population did not have a religious affiliation in 1990, but jumping twenty years forward to 2010, that percentage shot up 18%. 25 million more people have seemingly lost their religion, and Internet may be a catalyst. This research suggests that there’s definitely a relationship between the popularity of Internet and the decline of religious affiliation, but is the Internet the only factor here?

Religion is many things, but it’s certainly not simple. The way we view it depends on our lifestyle, location, upbringing, and mindset (for starters). With the rise of hard sciences in the 18th and 19th centuries, a country deeply rooted in religion began to replace its beliefs with quantitative ideology. The US is one of the more religious countries in the world; a 2002 survey by the Pew forum indicates that nearly 6 in 10 Americans said religion plays an important role in their lives. In Britain, only 3 out of 10 said the same thing, less than 3 out of 10 in Italy, and only 2 out of 10 in Germany. Historically, the US has just been more in tune with God, in whatever form that may be.

Up until now (sort of). The findings show that religious upbringing has the biggest influence on whether you will end up considering yourself a pious person or no. Starting with the ‘90s, less and less people brought up their children in a religious household. However, this only explains 25% of the drop in religious affiliation.

So, what else could affect the way Americans practice faith? Is it education? Studies show that although the rates of college education from the ’80s to 2000s increased, this only accounts for 5% of the drop in religious affiliation.

The Internet, as it turns out, has proven to illustrate a higher correlation than education. The amount of Internet usage went from “zero percent in the 1980s to 53 percent of the population spending up to two hours a week online in the 2000s.” This increase parallels with the 26% decrease in religious upbringing, meaning that the people who were raised during the same time period as the Internet boom, are less likely to be religious.

However, this is only a correlation. Does it absolutely mean that just because during the time period between 1990 and 2010 more people were using the Internet directly equates to a loss in religious identity?

What about television? We are able to watch so many more programs now, due to DVR. I can watch Parenthood, GIRLS, AND catch a couple of specials on educational stations like the History or Discovery Channel. With DVR, we’re given many more choices on how we want to entertain as well as educate ourselves.

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  1. Why do we need to use the word ‘blame’? Like not affiliating with a religion is a negative side effect of certain activities or actions we take in our lives. Very interesting article but I certainly don’t think speculating on what is to “blame” is a positive thing. I’d like our children to be able to look at identifying with a religious group and identifying as a spiritual individual and identifying as a non- spiritual, non-religious individual as all being options- none being more positive than another.

    • Hey, Alex. I agree with you. I’m not affiliated with any religion either, and I think I used “blame” in the title maybe a bit dramatically. I certainly don’t think this is a negative change at all! I just wanted to show that Internet may be a factor. Thanks for reading :)

      Gina Vaynshteyn | 4/11/2014 11:04 am
  2. “With DVR, we’re given many more choices on how we want to entertain as well as educate ourselves.” I like the way you phrased that! I think it’s very true.. Very interesting article!