Last summer , UU World invited readers to take part in an important survey about the magazine and its print and digital futures. The survey results are in—and they provide a clear picture of current readers’ preferences as well as some of the options that will, we hope, expand the magazine’s reach.
We designed the survey not just to help us understand your preferences but also to give the Unitarian Universalist Association an up-to-date demographic profile of the membership of the UUA’s congregations. Here is what we learned:
As a group, members of Unitarian Universalist congregations—who receive a subscription to UU World as a benefit of membership—are somewhat older, more likely to be women, more highly educated, and wealthier than they were when we conducted our last readership survey, in 2003–2004.
Almost three-quarters of current members are over 55 years old. (The average age is 61.3.) Almost three-quarters of members are women. Just over half our readers live with their spouse; another 6 percent live with a partner or significant other; one in three live alone. One in five households includes children under age 18. Eighty-seven percent identify as straight or heterosexual; 6 percent are lesbian or gay; 4 percent are bisexual. Ninety-eight percent are white.
Sixty-three percent of our readers have completed a graduate or professional degree. The average reported household income is $98,500. Forty-three percent are retired, while 36 percent work full-time, 14 percent work part-time, and 6 percent are currently not employed. The most commonly mentioned occupational fields are education, healthcare, or legal.
(Back in 2004, the average age of respondents was 58 years old; 65 percent were female; and 26 percent had children under age 18 living with them. Back then, 52 percent had a graduate or professional degree, and the average household income was $78,800, in unadjusted dollars.)
We asked how our readers are engaged with their congregations and with the UUA. Two-thirds have served in a leadership role in their Unitarian Universalist congregation; 29 percent have done so many times. Only 4 percent currently serve a UU congregation as a religious professional, although 9 percent have worked as a minister, religious educator, musician, or administrator in the past. Almost 90 percent have contributed financially to their congregation in the past year.
Our readers are less engaged with the broader UUA. Only one in four has attended a General Assembly. Thirty-seven percent say they have made a financial contribution to the UUA in the past year. (Another 37 percent gave to the UU Service Committee, and 19 percent gave to another UU organization in the past year.)
Few members report engaging with the UUA online: 86 percent have either never visited UUA.org or visited it only rarely (43 percent each); 88 percent do not follow the UUA using social media, although more than half use Facebook either daily (32 percent) or occasionally (20 percent).
Fifty-five percent read every issue of UU World, while 39 percent read the magazine occasionally. Fifty-three percent spend more than an hour reading a typical issue. Thirty-eight percent share their copy of the magazine with others. Receiving a print magazine is important to members: Over three-quarters said it is either extremely important (27 percent) or somewhat important (51 percent) that they receive the print edition; 22 percent said it was not important at all. When we asked the same question in a slightly different way—“How important is it to you that you receive some regular communication from the Unitarian Universalist Association in the form of a newsletter or magazine?”—the proportion of readers who said it is very important rose, to 32 percent, while just under 10 percent said it is not important to them and 21 percent said it is only marginally important.
We asked about readers’ interest in receiving the magazine in a digital format. Seven percent said they are very interested in a UU World tablet app, while 22 percent are somewhat interested. Nine percent said they are very interested in receiving the magazine as a digital magazine accessible through a web browser, while 30 percent are somewhat interested. (Forty-two percent do not own a tablet, while close to 5 percent do not have access to the Internet at all.)
Good news! The UUA will continue providing print subscriptions to members of congregations as a membership benefit, but (as I explain in “ From the Editor,” page 3) we are also introducing digital and tablet app editions for those who would like them. Visit uuworld.org/digital to learn more.
UU World’s website, uuworld.org, offers yet another way to read our articles—including news, essays, and special features that never appear in the print edition. Three-quarters of our print readers, however, have never read an article on uuworld.org. And only 6 percent of print subscribers receive UU World’s weekly email newsletter. (You may sign up for free at uuworld.org/newsletter.)
When we asked about content, readers expressed their greatest interest in theological or philosophical essays; articles about social justice, politics, or public witness; personal essays and reflections; and articles about history, books, and culture. Readers said they were somewhat interested in profiles of individuals and congregations; news about the UUA and congregations; covers, art, and photography; the president’s column; and letters to the editor. Readers expressed the least interest in the “Milestones” column and ministerial obituaries—and 37 percent of readers said they have no interest in reading the ads (although several respondents added notes of gratitude for our classifieds—and one reader noted, with delight, that they had met their boyfriend through a classified advertiser!).
We developed the questionnaire with the assistance of Peter Francese, a consumer marketing expert and founder of American Demographics magazine. The research firm Lewis&Clark conducted the survey, contacting 1,372 randomly selected members of UU congregations. Questionnaires were completed by 591 respondents, yielding a 43 percent response rate.
While Lewis&Clark was conducting the random sample survey that generated the results described above, we published the same questionnaire online and mailed printed copies to people who requested one. We received responses from 3,844 people—thank you!—that told us much more about specific segments of the UU universe.
We heard how much the magazine means to people who have limited or no access to a UU congregation or other UU resources; for example, forty prisoners, most of whom receive a subscription as a benefit of their membership in the UUA’s Church of the Larger Fellowship, completed questionnaires. Of the 526 people who mailed back printed questionnaires, 56 percent are over 75 years old; 74 percent said it was extremely important to them to receive a print magazine.
By aggressively promoting the online questionnaire, we were also able to attract 396 responses from people who do not receive the print magazine. Their responses are helping us refine our strategy for using UU World’s website and digital editions to serve UUs who are not currently members of congregations, including many younger people. Somewhat surprisingly, 55 percent of these respondents say they are members of or regularly attend a UU congregation, but nearly one in five has no relationship with a UU congregation. One-third of our non-print readers receives UU World’s weekly email newsletter, and 71 percent have read articles on uuworld.org. Our non-print readers are even more emphatic than our print readers about the importance of receiving a newsletter or magazine from the UUA—81 percent said it is either very important (50 percent) or somewhat important (31 percent). Half expressed interest in a tablet app version, and 82 percent expressed interest in a digital magazine version.
The audience we currently do not reach through the print magazine is younger, with 40 percent under age 45. Still overwhelmingly female (at 62 percent), they are only slightly more likely (at 21 percent) to have a child under age 18 living with them. They are less likely than print readers to identify as straight or heterosexual (63 percent), with 24 percent identifying either as lesbian/gay or bisexual (12 percent each). Non-print readers are still overwhelmingly white, although 13 percent identified either as multiracial or as a member of a minority racial or ethnic group. (We used U.S. Census categories to allow comparisons with broader social surveys; more nuanced categories are used by the UUA’s own Multicultural Growth and Witness staff.) Non-print readers are highly educated, too, with 41 percent having attained a graduate or professional degree and 36 percent having attained a bachelor’s degree. They are not as affluent as print readers, with just over one-third reporting household incomes over $60,000 a year, compared to 50 percent of print readers.
The UUA is unusual among religious denominations for publishing a magazine distributed as a membership benefit. (Most denominational magazines, when they still exist, go only to the fraction of the membership that chooses to subscribe.) Our readers’ level of interest in the magazine—measured in the number of voluntary responses we received, in the response rate we generated with the random sample survey, and in the specific responses to the questionnaire—heartens and encourages us. Obviously the survey points to areas where we can improve. My team is eager to rethink our editorial approach so we can bring you—and many others—an inspiring, engaging expression of contemporary Unitarian Universalism.