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The following article is a condensed republication of the original piece by the American Secular Census July 31, 2012. Read the full analysis on the American Secular Census website.

The American Secular Census, the national registry of demographic and viewpoint data recorded by Secular Americans, periodically releases statistics related to current topics of interest in and about the secular movement. Spirited online discussion of misogyny and sexism during the summer of 2012 led us to focus on data concerning women’s participation in secular events and organizations.

In May we published statistics related to the Census question Have you ever felt unwelcome, discriminated against, or harmed in the secular movement?  Responding “Yes” were 11.4% overall and 14.4% of women.

For this more detailed July analysis of women’s experiences in the secular movement, we zeroed in on information provided by those who described themselves as either “aware of organizations and events but have not participated” or “former participant[s] who [are] currently inactive.” We hoped to learn why women stay away (or go away) from the secular movement. We also looked at how women on the Census compare with registrants overall in terms of their secular self-identity, their “out” status, and their assessment of the secular movement’s strengths and weaknesses.

Note that women represent 40% of American Secular Census registrants in this snapshot, up from 29% on June 7th and down from 41% on February 3rd. These statistical variations highlight the ongoing, dynamic nature of the American Secular Census as new registrants create accounts and record their demographic and viewpoint data.


  • Most women respondents not currently active in the secular movement are aware of groups and events but do not participate. A smaller percentage were involved at some point but are now inactive. For both of these subsets, insufficient time is cited most often as the main obstacle to participation.
  • Other obstacles named by women outside the secular movement are inconvenient eventsinsufficient moneybad experience with group, person, or eventnot a joiner; and lack of childcare.
  • A non-trivial number of women respondents admitted they are not really sure why they haven’t participated in the secular movement.
  • Although not the top response, lack of childcare was the one factor to emerge as a disproportionately women’s concern. Just 39.1% of all registrants submitting this Census form were women; yet women represented more than 61.1% of the “lack of childcare” responses. No other selection showed a gender imbalance this marked.
  • Women are more selective about revealing their nontheism to others. Fewer women described themselves as “completely open” compared with Census registrants overall, while more women acknowledged being closeted in certain situations.
  • Most women Census registrants consider atheist to be their primary secular identity, followed by secular humanist and agnostic. Almost 3/4 of those who chose agnostic were women, suggesting a gender preference not seen with any of the 20+ other identities offered.
  • Both overall and among women, Census registrants say that the secular movement’s most effective work has been facilitating friendships and a sense of community. Both overall and among women, the secular movement’s weakest impact is felt to be in the sphere of political influence.
  • Women currently involved in the secular movement and those with a history of involvement were just as likely as Census registrants overall to see no disadvantage to participation: a little over 53% for both groups. This trend suggests that involvement in the secular movement can be as satisfying for women as others, once obstacles to participation are overcome.

Read the full analysis on the American Secular Census website for more detail about these datasets:

  • Women who are aware of organizations and events but have not participated
  • Former women participants currently inactive
  • Women’s openness about their nonbelief
  • Women’s primary worldview identity

– Mary Ellen Sikes, Secular Woman VP of Operations, is also the president and founder of the American Secular Census. Register here.


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