Sociology, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version



Published in Social Science Research 70 (2018), pp 254–270.

doi 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2017.12.002


Copyright © 2017 Elsevier Inc. Used by permission.


I argue that the social implications of religious non-affiliation vary across cultural contexts, leading to differences across nations in both who is likely to be unaffiliated and the religious consequences of such non-affiliation. I test these propositions by examining cross-national variation in associations with non-affiliation using multilevel models and cross-sectional survey data from almost 70,000 respondents in 52 nations. The results indicate that: 1) both individual characteristics (gender, age, and marital status) and nation-level attributes (GDP, communism, and regulation of religion) strongly predict religious non-affiliation; 2) differences in non-affiliation by individual-level attributes—women vs. men, old vs. young, and married vs. single—are greatest in nations with low levels of religious regulation and high levels of economic development; and 3) the effect of religious non-affiliation on religiosity varies considerably by the political and religious context, and to a lesser extent by the level of economic development in each nation. These results highlight cultural variation in what it means to be religiously unaffiliated.