Do Vegetarians and Vegans Stay Vegetarian?

The 2006-2009 Vegetarian Resource Group Survey

For more than 15 years, the Vegetarian Resource Group has been using polls to estimate the number of vegetarians in the United States. (See www.vrg.org/nutshell/faq.htm#poll.) Next, we wanted to look at the number of people who stay vegetarian, along with their motivations.

In 2006, we received 267 completed surveys, some from Journal readers and others collected by volunteers. In 2009, we resurveyed the same people and received 153 surveys from individuals who were vegetarian or vegan in 2006. Our methodology is exploratory, and further research is necessary to extrapolate to the general population. Note that we don't have information about the 34 percent from our original survey who did not respond to the 2009 one.

The vast majority of vegans and vegetarians stayed at least vegetarian. Our hypothesis was that people who became vegetarian primarily for ethical reasons would be more likely to stay vegetarian than people who became vegetarian primarily for health reasons. This did not hold up since 94 percent of ethical motivators stayed vegetarian from 2006 to 2009, and almost as large a percentage of health-motivated individuals stayed vegetarian with 91 percent. Interestingly, 100 percent of the people who cited environmental concerns as the reason for their diet remained vegetarian from 2006 to 2009.

We also theorized that vegans were more likely to stay vegetarian or vegan than were vegetarians who weren't vegan in 2006. We were wrong here also, as 94 percent of 2006 vegetarians and vegans were still vegetarian and vegan in 2009. Six percent of vegans stopped being vegetarian, and six percent of vegetarians stopped being vegetarian. Eight percent of 2006 vegans became vegetarian, while eleven percent of 2006 vegetarians became vegan.

For both males and females surveyed, 94 percent stayed at least vegetarian. One hundred percent of 2006 vegan males stayed vegan, while 83 percent of 2006 vegan females stayed vegan. Of those who were vegetarian less than two years, 75 percent stayed vegetarian; the categories of people who had been vegetarian from '3 to 5 years' to '30 years or more' varied between 90 and 100 percent remaining vegetarian. Possibly, those who are most likely to stay vegetarian are male vegans and individuals who have been vegetarian (no meat, fish, or fowl) for three or more years.

In our survey, respondents were asked if they did not eat meat, fish, fowl, dairy, or eggs. Though this study can't be extrapolated to the general population, we look forward to building upon this research.

Some of the study results follow on pages 11 and 12. To see all of the results, visit http://www.vrg.org/research/retention_survey_2009.php.

SURVEY RESPONDENTS
2006 Surveys* 267
2009 Surveys 176
2006 Respondents also responded in 2009. 66%

* (276 Total minus 9 duplicates and blanks)

2006 RESPONDENTS WHO RESPONDED IN 2009
How many didn't eat meat, fish, and poultry (vegetarian), though not vegan, in 2006 80
How many didn't eat meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs (vegan) in 2006 73
How many didn't eat meat, fish, poultry or didn't eat meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs (vegetarians plus vegans) in 2006 (Total Vegetarians): 153

80 WERE VEGETARIAN IN 2006 (NOT INCLUDING VEGANS)
Still Vegetarian 83% 66
Vegan 11% 9
Not Vegetarian 6% 5

73 WERE VEGAN IN 2006
Are still Vegan 86% 63
Vegetarian 8% 6
Not Vegetarian 6% 4

BY RESPONDENT GENDER
Male
2006 Vegetarian (vegetarian and vegan total)   33
2009 Still Vegetarian (vegetarian and vegan total) 94% 31
 
2006 Vegetarian (not including vegan)   19
2009 Still Vegetarian (not vegan) 68% 13
2009 Vegan 21% 4
 
2006 Vegan   14
2009 Still Vegan 100% 14
2009 Vegetarian (not vegan)   0
Female
2006 Vegetarian (vegetarian and vegan total)   120
2009 Still Vegetarian (vegetarian and vegan total) 94% 113
 
2006 Vegetarian (not including vegan)   61
2009 Still Vegetarian (not vegan) 87% 53
2009 Vegan 8% 5
 
2006 Vegan   59
2009 Still Vegan 83% 49
2009 Vegetarian (not vegan) 10% 6

HOW LONG RESPONDENTS HAD BEEN VEGETARIAN OR VEGAN IN 2006
Less than a year in 2006   3
Still a vegetarian in 2009 67% 2
 
1-2 years in 2006   9
Still a vegetarian in 2009 78% 7
 
3-5 years in 2006   14
Still a vegetarian in 2009 93% 13
 
6-10 years in 2006   17
Still a vegetarian in 2009 94% 16
 
11-15 years in 2006   24
Still a vegetarian in 2009 100% 24
 
16-19 years in 2006   15
Still a vegetarian in 2009 100% 15
 
20-25 years in 2006   18
Still a vegetarian in 2009 94% 17
 
26-29 years in 2006   10
Still a vegetarian in 2009 90% 9
 
30 or more years in 2006   40
Still a vegetarian in 2009 95% 38

MAIN REASON RESPONDENT GAVE FOR BEING VEGETARIAN OR VEGAN IN 2006 AND IF STILL VEGETARIAN IN 2009
Health
2006 Vegetarian   32
2009 Still vegetarian 91% 29
Ethics
2006 Vegetarian   48
2009 Still Vegetarian 94% 45
Animal Rights
2006 Vegetarian   72
2009 Still Vegetarian 92% 66
Weight Loss
2006 Vegetarian   3
2009 Still Vegetarian 100% 3
The Environment
2006 Vegetarian   15
2009 Still Vegetarian 100% 15
My Religion
2006 Vegetarian   1
2009 Still Vegetarian 100% 1
My Spiritual Beliefs
2006 Vegetarian   17
2009 Still Vegetarian 88% 15
Friends/Family
2006 Vegetarian   0
2009 Still Vegetarian   0
Saving Money
2006 Vegetarian   1
2009 Still Vegetarian 100% 1
Politics
2006 Vegetarian   0
2009 Still Vegetarian   0
World Hunger
2006 Vegetarian   5
2009 Still Vegetarian 100% 5
Taste
2006 Vegetarian   7
2009 Still Vegetarian 86% 6
Other
2006 Vegetarian   7
2009 Still Vegetarian 100% 7