c. 2000 Religion News Service

A survey of U.S. atheists and agnostics has found that thetypical freethinker is male, 58 years old and has at least one collegedegree.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation surveyed its nearly 4,000members and more than 1,300 responded.

The survey found that 73 percent of respondents had one or morecollege degrees compared to less than 25 percent of the generalpopulation.

Nine percent of respondents reported having earned a doctorate, atotal that is 10 times the 0.9 percent figure for the generalpopulation.

"The educational pursuits of our members bear witness to the factthat most people who reject religion do so mainly on intellectualgrounds," said Anne Nicol Gaylor, president of the Madison, Wis.-basedfoundation, in a statement.

"The most common catalysts cited for rejecting religions arereading, education, intellect, science and other thought processes."

The survey found that 17 percent of those responding were raised in"freethought homes" while almost three-quarters of respondents came fromreligious backgrounds.

Twenty-nine percent had rejected Roman Catholicism, while 19 percentleft behind Methodist teachings, 14.5 percent rejected the Baptistfaith, 12 percent gave up Lutheranism, and 9 percent rejectedPresbyterianism.

The survey also revealed that many freethinkers feel alone incommunities dominated by believers.

One-third of respondents concurred with statements such as "I oftenfeel like the only `infidel' in my area" and "I am wary of lettingothers know I reject religion."

But more than half of those responding agreed with the statement "Ispeak out freely about my lack of religion."

The survey also revealed a high percentage of senior members of theorganization. Only 3.5 percent of those responding to the survey were intheir 20s, compared to 22 percent in their 70s.

"Freethought is very strongly correlated with the wisdom of age,"Gaylor said.

Nearly half of the foundation's members returning surveys areretired and 39 percent volunteer regularly.

Foundation members also are twice as likely to be male as female.Seventy-nine percent of respondents described themselves as atheists; 13percent said they were agnostics.