Wearing our brains on our sleeve.
28 May 2016 04:07 (South Africa)
Life, etc

Godless, rich, professional, environmentally conscious: a snapshot of South Africa’s atheists

  • Marianne Thamm
    Marianne-Thamm-new.jpg
    Marianne Thamm
  • Life, etc
marianne-atheists-subbedm.jpg

Are the country’s atheists any happier, better off or more conscious of issues than their religious brothers and sisters? While South Africa remains an overwhelmingly religious country, there are a fair number of atheists (and Jedi apparently) who move among us. Who are they, what do they get up to and how do they live? By MARIANNE THAMM.

While the country’s atheists (disclosure: I count myself among them) love the Internet and being online to catch up on news, do their banking, make travel bookings and buy books and music, their general social networking skills, at least on Facebook (the preferred social networking platform), leaves much to be desired. This might be because a large number of them like to garden, go to the movies and restaurants, travel and watch sport rather than hang about in a virtual world of play-play friends and followers.

Be that as it may, a quick search of Facebook reveals five pages by South African atheists with a collective online community of around only 1,000. The Dagga Party page, on the other hand, has around 33,000 likes and is far more active when it comes to posting, marketing (not zol obvs), prodding and provoking discussion. Then again atheists in general are not inclined to proselytising, even less so since the atheist Pope, Richard Dawkins, had a little meltdown in full view of around 1 million followers on Twitter recently.

While not all atheists tag themselves as such, some prefer to be referred to as “secular humanists” or “non-believers” and for several years now, just to peeve off the census, people some have enjoyed stating “Jedi” in the religious belief section. The grouping also includes people who would generally self-identify as agnostic, irreligious or non-religious. Whatever your choice of label, this section of society has never before been quantified or examined closely in this country.

But recent a WhyFive, BrandMapp Survey of 20,233 of the country’s nine million economically active citizens (49 percent of whom identified as black, 37 percent white, seven percent Indian and eight percent coloured) and the largest ever conducted, has yielded some interesting insights into the country’s godless.

One of the most important findings, of course, is that the average South African atheist prefers cats to dogs, keeping fish to birds, is more partial to hamsters rather than guinea pigs and likes reptiles much more than their religious counterparts (which would make sense, what with the spooky talking snake).

So who is the average South African atheist?

Well, he’s white, male, English-speaking, aged between 35 and 50 and is married with children, while a high number are single and childless. He is educated, with the largest percentage (20) with a post-graduate degree and 23 percent with a university degree (compared with 19 percent of religious people). The figures back up findings in the US that people with a higher level of education tend to be less religious, perhaps because they have been exposed to more information and are able to make these “existential” choices. Studies in the US, however, have not been able to tease out the exact nature of the relationship between atheism and education, although it has been suggested that there is some connection.

More atheists locally are self-employed (21 percent) than believers (10 percent) while 62 percent of them are employed full time compared with 76 percent of religious people. Nine percent of retirees in the sample said they were atheists compared with religious retirees (four percent). Nineteen percent of atheists are professionals (doctors, lawyers and accountants) while 24 percent are in senior management. When it comes to middle management there is an equal 16 percentage split between atheists and religious people, with the numbers of religious people increasing lower down the employment food chain.

Nine percent of atheists work in the financial sector, eight percent in IT, only four percent in government (compared with 10 percent of religious people) while eleven percent list their industry as “other”.

Twenty-nine percent of atheists say they work for or in a company that employs between one and ten people, 29 percent in companies with a staff complement of between 10 and 100, 21 percent between 10 and 1,000, and 14 percent between 1,000 and 10,000.

More religious people, 77 percent, feel we should “get over race”, compared with 73 percent of atheists. Thirty-six percent of atheists are married with children, 19 percent are single, six percent are single with children and seven percent are married without children.

Most atheists live with one other person (36 percent), 15 percent live alone, 20 percent live with two other people while 16 percent live with three others. Sixty-four percent have no children, 17 percent have spawned one offspring while 14 percent have two. Thirteen percent of their children attend private schools, 10 percent are at Model C schools while nine percent are at government schools.

The most popular leisure activity for atheists is listening to music (64 percent), going to the movies (59 percent), reading (56 percent), travelling (52 percent), cooking (46 percent), exercise (42 percent), supporting rugby (38 percent), eating out (38 percent), gardening (31 percent) and supporting soccer (18 percent).

The highest concentration of atheists is in Gauteng (47 percent) followed by the Western Cape (29 percent) and KwaZulu-Natal (11 percent).

Collectively atheists worry most about crime (79 percent) followed by government incompetence (77 percent), corruption (74 percent), declining standards of education (57 percent) and making provision for their retirement (35 percent).

Atheists (37 percent) tend to be “quite conservative” when it comes to attitudes to investments (not having prayer to fall back on and all that, we assume) with 22 percent saying they were “quite bold” and 25 percent saying they were “unsure”. Forty-nine percent of them view credit as “useful tool if used wisely” while 42 percent resort to credit “only when I have to”, 20 percent view it as a “necessary evil and ten percent never use credit. Fifty-three percent say they feel “in control” of their debt, 17 percent “don’t have debt” while 21 percent are “nervous”.

Atheists, the study showed, were much more likely to be environmentally conscious, with 85 percent saying they “supported environmentally sustainable initiatives”. Seventy-four percent supported reducing electricity consumption, 58 percent recycled, 43 percent re-used packaging and 38 percent saved water. Fifty percent of them avoided eating endangered species of fish, 34 percent prefer organic food, 43 percent avoided battery hens in favour of free range, 43 percent buy sustainable products where available, 23 percent had reduced their car journeys and 19 percent recycled water. Forty-six percent did not buy branded food.

That said, while 96 percent of atheists said they were meat eaters (38 percent did say they were animal lovers!) with the majority preferring beef (93 percent), they did prefer poultry (97 percent) over fish (91 percent) with 87 percent enjoying lamb, 84 percent pork and 74 percent preferring seafood (prawns, etc.). Those who did not eat meat (43 percent) said they did so for ethical reasons while 20 percent said this was due to environmental concerns.

Most of South Africa’s atheists (68 percent) do not live in a secure estate. The bulk live in a freestanding home (72 percent) in a suburb (67 percent) in a city (ten percent). Sixty-seven percent owned their homes while 35 percent rented. Twenty-five percent own property worth between R200,000 and R500,000.

Most atheists had more than one household income (60 percent) while 32 percent earned a gross personal income of between R300k and R600k, and 30 percent between R100k and R300K. The bulk of atheists earn between R30,000 and R49,999 a month gross personal income. Seventeen percent have a monthly household expenditure of between R13,500 and R19,000.

When it comes to debt, 57 percent of atheists have credit card debt followed by 43 percent debt on a home loan and 35 percent on retail debt, while 15 percent said they had no debt. Fourteen percent said they had offshore investments while 78 percent of them said they did their banking online. The bulk of them, 75 percent, had current accounts followed by credit cards, 73 percent or an overdraft, 30 percent. Thirty percent of atheists have garage cards.

While 38 percent of atheists say they don’t drink beer, when they do they prefer craft beers (31 percent). While 48 percent say they don’t drink whisky, 16 percent enjoy Jamesons, 12 percent enjoy Johnnie Walker Black, followed by 10 percent who think they deserve a Bells.

The bulk of atheists (60 percent) access the Internet with ASDL, followed by WiFi (48 percent) followed by mobile (39 percent).

Atheists like to surf the web first thing in the morning (60 percent) while 39 percent do so mid-morning, 38 percent during lunchtime, 35 percent in the mid afternoon, 52 percent in the early evening and 38 percent in the late evening. The bulk (64 percent) use laptops, followed by desktops (47 percent), Smart phones (45 percent), cell phones (22 percent) and tablets (38 percent).

Eighty-one percent do their banking online, followed by 71 percent who download Apps, followed by research (63 percent), while 53 percent get their news online, 54 percent use social networking platforms (Facebook being the favourite among 66 percent), 28 percent download music, 38 percent book flights and accommodation and 29 percent look for recipes.

A whopping 47 percent don’t buy newspapers; however, 69 percent do read community newspapers delivered to their homes.

When it comes to levels of happiness and optimism, 31 percent of atheists (compared with 28 percent of religious people) said they felt “the same”, 20 percent were a “bit more” optimistic (compared with 24 percent of religious people), while 10 percent (who did not state if they were members of the Dagga Party) were “much more optimistic”, compared with 19 percent of religious people. DM

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  • Marianne Thamm
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    Marianne Thamm
  • Life, etc

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