March 11, 2009

2008 ARIS Results for Muslim Americans

The third American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) report was released the other day. This survey was conducted by Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar of Trinity College (Hartford, Connecticut) from February 2008 through November 2008. The previous two surveys were conducted in 1990 and 2001. What I've done is look at the data and written conclusions by the authors with respect to Islam/Muslims in the United States. I've covered all of the sections where Muslims are discussed with the exception of "composition of racial and ethnic groups," which I felt didn't provide any meaningful data. One other major section, Geography and Religion, was also ignored as all non-Christian religions were lumped together into one category, "other religions," which didn't provide any meaningful data either.

The format of my post will be a listing of the individual data categories along with the respective numbers, followed by the authors' conclusions in blockquotes. My commentary will be italicized.

The full report can be obtained from the ARIS website in pdf format.

My summary:

The ARIS report has found the Muslim American community to be both young and well educated, more so than the country's national average. However, the rate of growth in the community and the significant decrease among those adult Muslims who have a college degree suggests that there has been a reverse brain drain among immigrant Muslims. These Muslims appear to have returned to their home countries, probably in response to the post-9/11 climate of fear and distrust of Muslims.

Table 3: Self-Identification of US Adult Population by Religious Tradition:
1990: 527,000; 0.3%
2001: 1,104,000; 0.5%
2008: 1,349,000; 0.6%

The Muslim population doubled during the 1990s but its growth in numbers now seems to be slowing. The size and proportion of the Muslim population has often been debated but the ARIS numbers closely resemble the recent findings of the General Social Survey and the 2007 Pew Religious Landscape Survey. (p. 7)

I suspect that the slowing in the Muslim growth rate is due to the departure of a significant number of the immigrant community for their home countries in the post-9/11 environment. The drop in number of adult Muslim college graduates (see results for Table 11 below) would seem to confirm this brain drain.

Table 7: Gender Composition of the Religious Traditions, 2008:
52% male, 48% female

The male gender bias found among the minority religious traditions such as Muslims and the Eastern Religions is due to the high proportion of young immigrant males in these groups. (p. 11)

Table 8: Age Composition of the Religious Traditions, 2008 (National Averages):
18-29: 42% (22%)
30-49: 45% (38%)
50-69: 12% (28%)
70+: 1% (12%)

The age profile of the minority Eastern religions and Islam, which as previously noted were disproportionately male, shows they are also very young with about 40 percent of their adult adherents under age 30. This reflects their largely recent immigrant origins. (p. 12)

Tables 7 and 8 don't really surprise me; Islam in America is a "young" religion not only because of the numbers of Muslim immigrants who have entered the U.S. over the decades but also because most native-born American reverts to Islam are relatively young as well. (I think it's rare to find most anyone who's converted to another religion after the age of 40.) I suspect the older categories, 50-69 and 70+, are mostly black American Muslims who came to Islam through the Nation of Islam in the 60s and 70s.

Table 9: Marital Status of the Religious Traditions, 2008 (National Average):
Single, never married: 36% (25%)
Single, living with partner: 11% (NA)
Married: 42% (56%)
Divorced/Separated: 10% (13%)
Widowed: 1% (6%)

Thus as Table 8 shows, traditions such as Muslim, Eastern Religions, and None, with many young adherents, would be expected to and do contain large proportions of single, never-married adults.

Cohabitation or “living with a partner” is more prevalent among younger people than older persons so we should expect traditions with a younger age profile to have greater proportions of those just “living together”. This appears to be true as this phenomenon is more prevalent towards the bottom of Table 9 and highest among the NRM [New Religion Movements], Muslim and None traditions while it is very low among the Mormon and conservative Protestant Denomination traditions. (p. 13)

Of all the categories I find the "Single, living with partner" to be the most confusing. I think when most people read "living with partner" they assume it means a man and a woman living together in a sexual relationship without having married ("living in sin"). However, I would be extremely surprised if this was the case for Muslim Americans. I suspect the real situation is that the vast majority of these people are living together in platonic single-sex arrangements in order to save on expenses. (I did the same for quite a few years, even after graduating from college.) Once again, the fact that most Muslim Americans are young, with almost half being either college-age or college graduates establishing their careers, would seem to bear this conclusion out.

Table 11: Percentage of College Graduates in the Population Age 25 and Over by Religious Tradition, 1990-2008 (National Average):
1990: 41% (21%)
2008: 35% (27%)

There was no significant conclusion written by the authors, other than to acknowledge the decline in the number of Muslim college graduates residing in the U.S. I think the reason for this decline is fairly obvious: After 9/11, the U.S. government made admission into American colleges and universities extremely difficult for foreign students, not just for Muslims but for everyone. (When I lived in Korea, almost all my students were heading to universities in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.; only a handful tried to get into the U.S. Obtaining an American student visa at that time was nearly impossible.) Likewise, I suspect that most Muslim college graduates who are immigrants have had to leave the U.S. over the years due to difficulties in obtaining employment permits, Islamophobic harassment by American co-workers and managers, etc. However, it is interesting to note that, like the results found in the recent survey by Gallup (Muslim Americans: A National Portrait), Muslims are still much better educated than Americans in general.

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