Those who read the Bible have “far more hope” than those who don’t, according to a recent survey released as the number of Americans who prioritize Bible reading continues to decline.
The first chapter of American Bible Society’s 2023 “State of the Bible” report, released earlier this month, analyzed responses to a series of questions that measure an individual’s level of hope. The survey polled 2,761 adults across the 50 states from Jan. 5-30. The questions asked respondents to rank their level of agreement with statements describing their feelings “when an outcome I desire seems unlikely or even impossible.”
The survey asked respondents if they were “determined to see things to the end,” “will keep trying,” “won’t give up” or were “motivated to wait for a successful outcome” in such a scenario. Participants ranked the statements on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 indicating the highest level of disagreement and 5 indicating the highest level of agreement.
Overall, respondents had an average score of 3.8 on the Persevering Hope scale, which averages the rankings of the four relevant statements together. Separating responses into categories based on respondents’ level of Scripture engagement shows that the “Scripture engaged” have a higher level of hope than the “movable middle” and the “Bible disengaged.”
The American Bible Society defines “Scripture engaged” Americans as those who scored 100 or higher on the Scripture engagement scale, which asked respondents “14 survey items about the frequency of Bible use and the impact and centrality of [its] message.” In 2023, the State of the Bible report estimated that 47 million Americans fell into the “Scripture engaged” category.
The number of “Scripture engaged” Americans has consistently declined from a high of 71 million in 2020. On average, the “Scripture engaged” received a score of 4.1 out of 5 on the Persevering Hope scale.
The “movable middle” consists of those who scored between 70 and 99 on the Scripture engagement scale. The number of Americans in the “movable middle” category was estimated at 76 million in 2023, an increase from a high of 95 million in 2021 and a low of 66 million last year. This subgroup of respondents had an average score of 3.8 on the Persevering Hope scale.
The “Scripture disengaged,” who had scores of less than 70 on the Scripture engagement scale, also had the lowest average scores on the Persevering Hope scale, measured at 3.7. According to the State of the Bible report, 138 million Americans were “Scripture disengaged” in 2023, a slight decline from the 145 million who fit that description in 2022. The report concluded that “in dealing with the struggles of life, people who engaged with the Bible have far more hope than others.”
In addition to reporting on the data about the Persevering Hope scale, the State of the Bible report examined the general landscape surrounding Bible use in the U.S. It measured the number of Bible users, defined as those who “read, listen to, or pray with the Bible on their own at least 3-4 times a year, outside of a church service or a church event,” at 100 million in 2023. The number of Bible users this year, accounting for 39% of the U.S. population, is the lowest since the first State of the Bible report was published in 2011.
Broken down by demographic group, majorities of Evangelical Protestants (70%), historically black Protestants (68%), blacks (57%) and separated respondents (52%) were Bible users. Significantly smaller shares of Mainline Protestants (46%), Hispanics (42%), Catholics (37%), whites (35%) and Asians (27%) fall into that category.
The share of Bible users decreased as age groups moved from old to young. Forty-eight percent of elders were Bible users, followed by 46% of baby boomers, 38% of Gen Xers, 33% of millennials and 30% of Gen Zers.
A slightly higher share of women (41%) were Bible users than men (36%). Both married (42%) and widowed (42%) respondents were equally likely to identify as Bible users, while those who are divorced (39%) and never married (30%) were less likely to do so.
Respondents also weighed in on their views as to whether the U.S. would be “worse off” or “better off” if people did not read the Bible. A plurality of those surveyed (44%) contended that the U.S. would be “worse off” without the Bible. An additional 41% thought the U.S. would be “about the same” without the Bible, while the remaining 14% suggested it would be “better off.”
The share of Americans who think the U.S. would be “worse off” in the absence of biblical influence has consistently declined after reaching a high of 54% in 2021. It dropped to 45% in 2022.
After reaching a low of 33% in 2021, the percentage of Americans who think the U.S. would be “about the same” without the Bible has remained steady at 41% over the past two years. The share of Americans who think the U.S. would be “better off” without the Bible has remained at 14% for the past three years after it was measured at 13% in 2020.
The American Bible Society will release additional chapters of the 2023 State of the Bible report on a monthly basis throughout the rest of the year.