WHEN YOU think of the words “American Buddhist,” what do you see? Someone white, middle-aged, no kids? An adult convert from Protestantism? Someone with a graduate degree, living in the western United States?
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s “2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” released in late February, may provide some new clues about what American Buddhists are like. The Pew Forum conducted more than 35,000 telephone surveys with adult respondents, 0.7% of whom identified themselves as Buddhist.
A caveat: While the resulting figures are interesting and may be useful in evaluating American sangha development, care must be taken in relying heavily on them. The margin for error is +6.5%, and only 411 respondents identify themselves as Buddhist. Also, Hawaii, home to a significant number of Buddhists, was not included in the survey.
Nonetheless, larger trends and themes emerge and help to point out where further study is needed.
MORE than half (53%) of Buddhist respondents are white; another third (32%) are Asian or Asian-American. Nearly three-quarters of Buddhist respondents (74%) were born in the U.S. In addition, gender was equally represented: 53% of Buddhist respondents are male and 47% female.
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