Friday, November 4, 2011

Are atheists "kids"?

One accusation I see against atheists come up a fair bit on reddit's r/atheism is that we're 'angry 13 year olds', that we're 'in a rebellious phase', that 'atheism is a passing fad'.

To this 48 year old homeowner with a family and a steady job, the 'rebellious' bit seems hilarious.

So let's compare the age distributions, shall we?

In 2010, Reddit did a survey.

Some months later, redditor NukeThePope did a survey of r/atheism.

Both surveys asked about age and categorized it into broad age groups. Now these samples are self-selected, with the usual biases that implies - but both sets of biases would presumably be of similar size and direction on age, so they might still be reasonably comparable.

However, because the age groups don't correspond, I'm going to smooth both distributions - doing kernel density estimates of log(age) with the bandwidth set just above where binning artifacts start to appear - which is slightly different for the two, because they have different sets of binwidths - and then transforming back to the original scale (and don't forget the Jacobian, he whispers to himself!).

Here's how that comes out:

Now, on the left half of the distributions, they're almost coincident. In the mid-to-late 20's there are relatively very slightly more in r/atheism, and in the mid-30's, very slightly fewer. Then the distributions are almost coincident again.

That is, around the upper quartile - well into adulthood - the atheists look to be perhaps a couple of years younger (I did some additional analysis to estimate the difference in that area) on average. Otherwise, there's really no clear difference.

So atheists - at least the denizens of r/atheism - aren't particularly different from everyone else; they seem to pretty much just reflect the demographics of reddit.


Cujo359 said...

we're 'angry 13 year olds'

Don't you love the hollow sound of condescension?

I don't for a moment pretend there aren't condescending attitudes in the other direction, but when I read things like that, it's the first thing I normally assume is at the bottom of them.

Efrique said...

Yep, condescension indeed.

It's usually the opening gambit in a 'just a phase' line of argument (especially from parents to kids - even when they're adults), like we'll all somehow get over our juvenile lack of belief in their invisible friend when we grow up.

Now, it's true - there are quite a few young atheists on r/atheism - because reddit as a whole is pretty young; it's the demographics of the internet itself.

And sure, they're often noisy and raucous, and uncouth and some of them still have a couple of things to learn.

In other words, they're *the best thing ever*.

The condescension stinks; it's lazy argument, because they don't have better. It's also not true - the figures on changes in belief within cohorts suggest pretty clearly that the large majority of these teen atheists will be middle aged atheists in a few decades.

Generally speaking the young atheists are smart as whips, and curious and inventive and funny.

I love the young atheists we do have to bits, they're fucking great.

They don't need condescension, their parents should cherish *every last moment with them*.

Parents - if your kids think just as you do, you didn't get parenting at all.

Your kids can't be the *you* you wish you were, they can only try to be the *them* they wish *they* were.