Who Communicates With Dead Relatives? Over Half of Us, According to Pew Research

According to a recent survey, most Americans, 53 percent, have encountered or had a relationship with a deceased loved one at some point, with 44 percent reporting such an experience within the past year.

(Royalty-free photo by pxfuel.com)
(Royalty-free photo by pxfuel.com)

The survey, conducted by Pew Research and covering a range of religious demographics—from “none” or atheist/agnostic to the very devout—did not confine itself to the nature of the experience.

  • 53 percent answered that at some point in their life they’d felt that a dead family member visited them “in a dream or any other form.”
  • 44 percent reported that they’d had such an experience within the past year, with 34 percent feeling the presence of a dead relative, 28 percent telling the dead relative about their life, and 15 percent experiencing a dead relative communicating with them.
  • Women were more likely than men to experience an interaction with a dead relative at 53 percent to 35 percent. 
  • The widest gulf occurred between Historically Black Protestants who had ever felt that a dead family member had come to visit them via a dream or otherwise (67 percent) and atheists who ever had a similar experience in any form other than a dream (10 percent).

The survey did not ask for details or explanations as to the specific nature or import of such experiences.

Pew research associate Patricia Tevington and Pew research analyst Manolo Corichi wrote of the survey, “We don’t know whether people view these experiences as mysterious or supernatural, or whether they see them as having natural or scientific causes, or some of both. For example, the survey did not ask what respondents meant when they said they had been visited in a dream by a dead relative. Some might have meant that relatives were trying to send them messages or information from beyond the grave. Others might have had something more commonplace in mind, such as having dreamt about a favorite memory of a family member.”

A wide percentage separates Catholics and Historically Black Protestants on the one side, and Evangelical Protestants on the other. Roughly two-thirds of Catholics (66 percent) and members of the Historically Black Protestant Tradition (67 percent) reported they’ve had a visit from a deceased family member in some form. For Evangelical Protestants, this is far less likely (42 percent).

Roughly half (48 percent) of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated—a demographic consisting of atheists, agnostics, and those who report their religion as “nothing in particular—say they have ever been visited by a dead relative in a dream or other form.

But those who describe their religion as nothing in particular are much more likely to say they have ever been visited by a deceased loved one (58 percent) than are agnostics (34 percent) and atheists (26 percent).

In other words, as Tevington and Corichi put it, “People who are moderately religious seem to be more likely than other Americans to have these experiences. This is partly because some of the most traditionally religious groups—such as evangelical Protestants, as well as some of the least religious parts of the population, such as atheists and agnostics—are less likely to report having interactions with deceased family members.”

Why the most and least religious groups in the U.S. would share this reluctance to report communication with loved ones who have passed away could likely be the subject of another survey.


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Pew Research Center Communication with the Dead