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News / Churches & Religion

Washington ranked 5th least-religious state

Survey: Seattle the least-religious large metro area in U.S.

By Gene Balk, The Seattle Times
Published: March 9, 2024, 6:05am

Americans have grown less religious over the past couple of decades, and attendance at religious services is down across the country. Of course, some parts of the country are a lot less religious than others. New survey data shows Seattle is one of those places.

A clear majority of adults in the Seattle area — around 64 percent — never attend church or religious services, or go less than once a year. That pencils out to about 1.98 million people out of the total 3.1 million population aged 18 and older in the metro area, which includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

The data comes from the ongoing Household Pulse Survey, a product of the U.S. Census Bureau. The question on religious-service attendance is a new addition to the survey, which was conducted from Jan. 9 to Feb. 5 and had about 68,500 respondents nationwide.

The survey includes data from all 50 states plus the nation’s 15 largest metro areas, including Seattle. And among those 15, Seattle ranked the least religious, edging out San Francisco, where 63 percent never attend religious services, or go less than once a year. Boston was a distant third at 56 percent.

The southern parts of the U.S. tend to be more religious, so it’s not surprising to see three Sunbelt cities with the lowest share of nonreligious residents among large metros. In Dallas, 40.5 percent never attend a service or go less than once a year. Houston and Atlanta were just a little higher.

What may be surprising to folks in the Seattle area, though, is that the rest of Washington is nearly as nonreligious as Seattle. Statewide, 63 percent never or almost never attend religious services, just 1 percentage point lower than the number for the Seattle area.

Washington ranked as the fifth least-religious state. Maine and Vermont were at the top, both at around 69 percent, followed by Oregon (65 percent) and New Hampshire (64 percent). Mississippi had the lowest share of nonreligious people, with only 30 percent never or almost never attending services.

Nationally, half of adults never go to religious services, or go less than once a year, according to the survey.

More liberal places like Seattle tend to be less religious than conservative places. A Pew Research Center survey found nationwide just 29 percent of Democrats attended religious services weekly, compared with 44 percent of Republicans.

Beyond geographic location and political affiliation, there are a number of demographic factors that correlate with religiosity.

Age is the most notable of these, with the youngest cohort being the least religious and the oldest being the most. Nationally, 59 percent of adults under 30 never or almost never attend services, compared with just 37 percent of those 80 and older.

The Seattle area has a high concentration of younger adults, which could partly explain our low level of religious-service attendance. Census data shows in the Seattle area that more than 42 percent of the adult population was between the ages of 18 and 39 in 2022, the highest percentage among the 15 metros.

Race and ethnicity are another factor that could partly explain the low level of religious-service attendance in the Seattle area. The survey data shows only 35 percent of Black people nationally never or almost never attend services, the lowest of any racial or ethnic group. White people had the highest percentage, at 54 percent.

Census data shows in the Seattle area, Black people made up just 6 percent of the total population in 2022, second lowest among the 15 metro areas. White people were 57 percent of the total, fourth highest among the metros.