February 25, 2008

Tibetan Olympics; More from the Pew Report

More sanctions on Burmese businesses from the U.S.

Disillusioned with the Beijing Olympics? Try the Tibetan Olympics! The games will take place in Dharamsala from may 15th to 25th. The torch relay is currently in Taiwan, with Miss Tibet on hand to watch.

The New York Times looked at the Pew Report and found that 25% of American adults have changed from the religion of their birth to another religion or no religion.

Pew Graphic: It seems the Buddhists surveyed (who were 53% white and 32% Asian, out of a sample population of about 410) aren't much into children. 70% of Buddhists surveyed report no children in the home (this despite 45% of Buddhists reporting in as married and 70% as being between the ages of 30 and 64.)

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Buddhist Americans « Dharma Folk's picture

[...] this survey was proof that American Buddhism is in decline, even dying out, especially due to a lack of children. Some found particular interest in the fact that the Pew survey reported more non-Asian Buddhists [...]

jeffwilson's picture

This would mean there are 1.6 million adult Buddhists in America. But the figure is clearly flawed, and researchers in this area expected an undercount before the study was even released. It was conducted only in English and Spanish, which leaves out a lot of Asian-American Buddhist practitioners. Long-time observers of American Buddhism suggest that Asian-Americans account for between 70-80% of American Buddhists, yet they only made up 32% of the study's counted Buddhists, so we can see there's clearly a big gap between what the study was able to measure and what's really out there on the ground.

Also, since Buddhism is primarily oriented toward practice rather than affiliation, it's hardly surprising that an affiliation-based research model fails to accurately portray Buddhism. In Japan it's common for Japanese folks to say they have no religion at all, yet the large majority participate in Buddhism and Shinto. Buddhism just doesn't conform to studies based on Christian models. That said, this study is hardly useless. We can take from it that AT LEAST 1.6 million adults in America consider themselves Buddhist, and go on to say that the actual number is somewhere higher than 1.6 million (at least 2 million, probably more), yet, assuming it isn't utterly flawed, the number is likely somewhat less than, say, 8 million.

Gerald Ford's picture

Yeah, I re-read the child distribution for all the religious groups, and found that they were more or less the same. So, it's actually normal when you look at the bigger picture. Shows how much I know. :P

Philip Ryan's picture

I suspect this Pew stuff will be floating around for a while. A commenter on Danny Fisher's blog points out that the 70% figure for childless Buddhists is not so unusual. The more I look at the data, in fact, the less it seems to tell me, but the age distribution does indeed seem healthy, which is nice.

scott's picture

Excellent points GF.

To add some more analysis, if you look at the pie-chart for age under the portrait section, you'll notice that 63% of us are under 50. I find that encouraging in conversations about the "greying" or "aging" of Buddhism in America.

Gerald Ford's picture

Ok, more analysis:

Pretty even age distribution (yay!) There's hope for Buddhism in the younger generations yet. :D

Also reasonably even distribution among men/woman. I am not sure why women would be smaller, but my guess is that monks/priests tend to be men, not women based on old biases. Hopefully that too will change. I've heard some wonderful Dharma Talks by nuns.

Gerald Ford's picture

Fun stuff, fun stuff.

I find the number of children (or lack thereof) depressing. I think Clark Strand was right: Buddhism is still geared in the US as a self-help religion, and people still haven't really grasped the concept of "family Buddhism". After the Baby Boomers pass away, I wonder how things will shape up.

Being a Buddhist and a father, I really enjoy having kids (all 1 of them so far) and watching the little one learn simple values like humility, gratitude and kindness.

One weird flaw in this survey was the sub-grouping of Buddhist branches:

* Theravada (makes sense)
* Mahayana, Zen (????)
* Tibetan (should be Vajrayana...there are non-Tibetan Vajrayana sects, thank you)
* Other Buddhist groups (should just be Mahayana Buddhism)

Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana should be able to cover all Buddhist branches. Someone at Pew's wasn't doing their homework.

The pretty even distribution of all three branches is pretty fascinating. That's a nice point to bring up: all Buddhist sects are reasonably represented in the US. :)

scott's picture

I'm still digging through the report myself. I'm fascinated by the low level of children, but also note that about half of all American Buddhists are married (or have been married). Would be interesting to note the relationships between married with or without children, who's a celibate monastic, etc.

This is a great report! Thanks for posting about it!