Three Out of Four Americans Believe in Life After Death


A substantial majority of Americans believe in life after death, according to a new study by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture.

The survey, comprising a representative sample of 15,738 Americans between the ages of 18 and 60, found that 72% of adults in the United States believe in some sort of life after death, though not everyone holds the same vision of what this existence will be like. Just 37% of Americans believe in a bodily resurrection from the dead, though this figure varies considerably according to religious affiliation.

Those describing themselves as Fundamentalist Protestants and Mormons, for example, believe overwhelmingly in bodily resurrection (86% and 94% respectively), while among those who identified themselves as “liberal Catholics,” only 30% believe in bodily resurrection and among Jews the number is lower still, at 20%.

Those who attend religious services regularly are three times as likely to believe in resurrection as those who attend seldom or never; 61% of weekly attenders report belief, while only 22% of non-attenders do.

Considerable diversity also exists regarding the final destination of humans after death. Just over half (51%) of those surveyed expressed traditional belief in the existence of both heaven and hell as real places, and an additional 8% believe in heaven but not in hell.

Among the religiously active, belief in both heaven and hell increases significantly. Those who attend services weekly are about twice as confident that heaven and hell exist as compared to those who never attend. Some 83% of weekly service-goers believe in heaven, while just 43% of non-attenders do. As for hell, 77% of the religiously active believe, compared to just 35% of the inactive.

Belief in heaven and hell would seem to have decreased over the past decade, as a 2004 Gallup survey revealed that 81% of Americans at the time believed in heaven, and 70% of Americans believed in hell.

Education seems to have a mixed effect on belief in the afterlife. After some college education, belief in life after death increases to 78%, up from just 69% of those with less than a high school education. Finishing a degree seems to produce the contrary result, however, as the percentage of believers drops to 72% among those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome