The Pew Survey of Religion and Public Life and Jehovah's Witnesses

Jerry Bergman

(Investigator 121, 2008 July)


The Pew survey of Religion and Life association researches the intersection of Religion and public life to better understand the role of religion as a whole in public life in America today.

The 2008 survey reveals a great deal of information about religion in society as well as about the Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) religion.

The national representative sample used for the survey, which was called "massive," was 35,000 Americans over 18 years old. Witnesses are only 0.7 percent of the population, or in this study 245 persons, which was considered statistically reliable by the researchers.

The findings related to Jehovah's Witnesses

One major finding was that Jehovah's Witnesses "had the lowest retention rate of any religious tradition" – only 37 percent of those who were reared Jehovah's Witnesses still identified themselves as Witnesses as adults (2008, p. 26).

The survey also concluded that the religious tradition most likely to switch affiliation (including to atheism) included not only the Witnesses but also the unaffiliated. The "affiliation change" data also included persons who were reared in one faith and switched to another faith. For the JWs, more than two-thirds of those who listed their faith as Witnesses were reared in another faith, or were not affiliated with any specific faith, as a child.

Also of interest is the fact that 80 percent of those who were reared in a religion are currently not affiliated with any religion (p. 27). This supports the finding that large numbers of Americans leave the faith in which they were reared. One reason for changing ones faith is mixed marriage and young people today are more likely to be in a mixed marriage than older adults were, supporting the trend today to marry outside of the religion in which one was reared. These findings support the common conclusion that the Witnesses are today a revolving door religion.

The Witnesses had one of the lowest levels of education of all the religions surveyed. Nineteen percent had only a high school education or less, the lowest education level of all religions surveyed (p. 56). This compares to eight percent of atheists and only three percent of all Jews. In contrast, only three percent of the Witnesses had a post graduate degree and six percent were college graduates. This compares with 21 percent of atheists who had post graduate degrees, and the same percent were college graduates. Of the Jews, the comparable numbers were 35 and 24 percent (p. 56).


About half (42 percent) of the Jehovah's Witnesses had incomes below 30,000 and only nine percent had incomes above 100,000 dollars. Only those involved in historically black churches had incomes below the Witnesses (p. 60). Of the Jews, a mere 14 percent had incomes below 30,000 but 46 percent had incomes above 100,000 dollars, or over 5 times the level of the Witnesses. Of those who labelled themselves Protestant, 32 percent had incomes below 30,000 and 15 percent above 100,000 dollars.

More females identified themselves with some theistic religious tradition than males for most all religious traditions, including the Witnesses. Of the Witnesses, the divide was greater than for most all religions, namely only 40 percent of all Witnesses were males, and 60 percent were females. For Protestant traditions the average gender divide was 46 and 54 percent, respectively. For the unaffiliated, the level of men who accepted this label was 59 percent and women 41 percent, the reverse of the Witness ratio.

Also of interest is the fact that 14 percent of the Witnesses were divorced or separated, higher than all groups except historically black churches and “other faiths” (p. 67). No doubt the strain of Witness teaching also strains mixed marriages.

Family Composition

Of the Witnesses, 53 percent were married, 14 percent divorced, 11 percent widowed, and 20 percent were never married. Only one percent were living together, the lowest of all religions groups except Hindus (p. 67). In view of the fact that living together is a disfellowshipping offense, this low number is not too surprising.            

Of the unaffiliated, an average of 10 percent were living together and, of the Jews, six percent were living together.


This extensive survey confirms several common perceptions about the Witnesses. They tend to be female, poorly educated, and in a lower income bracket then the general population. They also tend to leave the religion of their upbringing more often than members of most churches. This is not unexpected considering the conflicts that Witnesses have with society and the pull of the secular values in modern culture on Witnesses youth, a pull which is also true of all youth. 


 Miller, Tracy (Editor).  2008. U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Washington, D.C.: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. 

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