News & Blog

New Report Finds Nonreligious Women Face Greater Discrimination, Seek Community

Washington, D.C—Today, the secular organizations American Atheists and Secular Woman released Nonreligious Women in America, a report based on a survey of 13,522 nonreligious women, drawn from a larger survey of nearly 34,000 nonreligious people living in America, organized by a team of researchers at Strength in Numbers Consulting Group. The Nonreligious Women in America report raises awareness about nonreligious women, highlights their priorities and needs, and proposes solutions to reduce the stigma and discrimination they face.

“Nonreligious women are a growing and politically engaged population, yet they still too often face ridicule, negative stereotypes, and marginalization with their families, in broader society, and even within atheist communities,” said Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy, who authored the report. “Discrimination isolates secular women and contributes to economic insecurity. It must end.”

Compared to other participants, women reported more discrimination because of their nonreligious beliefs in nearly every area of their lives. A significantly higher proportion of nonreligious women had negative experiences in reproductive care (18.9% versus 9.5%), and this discrimination was markedly higher in very religious communities than less religious communities (25.3% versus 15.8%). Participants who experienced discrimination related to reproductive care were 44.9% more likely than other participants to screen positive for depression.

“Atheism is a politically active movement. We must engage more to protect abortion access,” said Stephanie Zvan of Secular Women, the only organization exclusively dedicated to representing the interests of nonreligious women. “Women-led groups have already been very active on reproductive rights. Yet other groups have questioned whether religious attacks on abortion should even be considered a secular issue.”

The report found that nonreligious women prioritize policy issues that directly impact them, their families, and their communities. Women participants were more likely than other participants to consider access to abortion and contraception a top-three priority issue (48.0% versus 31.4%) and to consider it a “very important” issue (93.4% versus 81.5%). Nonreligious women were also more likely than other participants to consider as “very important” issues: comprehensive and medically accurate sex education (90.8% versus 81.9%), LGBTQ equality (88.8% versus 76.8%), and protecting the environment against climate change (88.5% and 82.4%).

“The secular community must actively include women and listen to what they have to say,” said Debbie Goddard, Vice President for Programs at American Atheists. “Already, the stereotype that only men are atheists leaves nonreligious women feeling invisible, ignored, and unlikely to want to participate in the secular community. Atheist groups can engage and retain women members by prioritizing their needs.”

Despite the challenges secular women face in atheist spaces, they are far more likely than other nonreligious people to seek out and value membership in local and national groups. Women participants were more likely than other participants to be a member of a local secular organization (25.0% versus 20.1%). The report found that membership in national or local secular organizations was an important protective factor against depression. Women who were members of national or local organizations were about one-third less likely than nonmembers to be depressed. In very religious areas, where nonreligious people are subject to greater stigma, women were more than 1.5 times as likely to be members of local organizations in less religious communities (31.0% versus 22.0%).

“Access to the secular community can protect nonreligious women. However, secular groups drive women away when they fail to clearly prohibit unwanted sexual attention, sexist humor, or even inappropriate physical contact,” said Zvan. “In order to create welcoming spaces for nonreligious women, organizations must establish standards of behavior and ensure that consequences for violations don’t fall on victims.”

The report includes a number of recommendations for nonreligious community groups: disrupting sexism and creating welcoming environments for women, prioritizing inclusion of nonreligious women in activities and opportunities for engagement, and recognizing that protecting access to abortion and reproductive services and other issues that disparately impact nonreligious women are secular issues.

View the full report at