The newest Pew Research Center survey on the religious affiliation of American adults has found some mixed messages, especially pertaining to the so-called “nones,"—the people who identify as atheists, agnostics, or who believe “in nothing all.”

After rising steadily since 2007 when nones accounted for 16% of American adults, Pew found the percentage of religious unaffiliated adults stood at 28% in 2023, down from 31% in 2022 and about equal to the percentage of adults who described themselves as nones in 2020.

Researchers at Pew, however, were reluctant to view the newest results as an indication that the percentage of nones is declining, pointing out that such declines have occurred in previous years, only to grow again in subsequent surveys. In addition, the researchers noted that the percentage of nones has stayed at 28% or above for five years now. And despite the small dip, nones are the country’s second largest religious group, trailing only Protestants (40%) and ahead of Catholics (20%).

The newest report took a deep look at some of the characteristic of nones. By far, most nones (63%) describe themselves as believing in nothing in particular; 20% are agnostic; 17% are atheist.

And in a finding that is not a surprise, given that older people tend to be more religious than younger people, the report found 69% of nones are under the age of 50. By comparison, 55% of U.S. adults who identify with a religion are age 50 or older.

Other findings from the survey:

  • Most nones say religion does some harm, but many also think it does some good. They are not uniformly anti-religious.
  • Most nones reject the idea that science can explain everything, but they express more positive views of science than religiously affiliated Americans do.

When asked why they are not religious, Pew found that two-thirds of nones say they have a lot of questions about religious teachings or don’t believe in God. But many also had criticisms of religious institutions or people, including 47% of nones “who say that one extremely or very important reason why they are not religious is that they dislike religious organizations. And 30% say bad experiences they’ve had with religious people help explain why they are nonreligious.”

Notably, most nones (56%) said they actually believe in some form of higher power other than "God." Nones, however, widely share one characteristic—some 90% say they seldom or never attend religious services.