America’s Changing Religious Landscape

May 19, 2015

By Pew Research Center

The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men. (Explore the data with our interactive database tool.)

To be sure, the United States remains home to more Christians than any other country in the world, and a large majority of Americans – roughly seven-in-ten – continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith.1 But the major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans by the Pew Research Center finds that the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. And the share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths also has inched up, rising 1.2 percentage points, from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014. Growth has been especially great among Muslims and Hindus, albeit from a very low base.

The drop in the Christian share of the population has been driven mainly by declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics. Each of those large religious traditions has shrunk by approximately three percentage points since 2007. The evangelical Protestant share of the U.S. population also has dipped, but at a slower rate, falling by about one percentage point since 2007.2

Even as their numbers decline, American Christians – like the U.S. population as a whole – are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Non-Hispanic whites now account for smaller shares of evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics than they did seven years earlier, while Hispanics have grown as a share of all three religious groups. Racial and ethnic minorities now make up 41% of Catholics (up from 35% in 2007), 24% of evangelical Protestants (up from 19%) and 14% of mainline Protestants (up from 9%).


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23 comments on “America’s Changing Religious Landscape

  • @source link: – Factors Behind the Changes in Americans’ Religious Identification

    One of the most important factors in the declining share of Christians and the growth of the “nones” is generational replacement. As the Millennial generation enters adulthood, its members display much lower levels of religious affiliation, including less connection with Christian churches, than older generations. Fully 36% of young Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 24) are religiously unaffiliated, as are 34% of older Millennials (ages 25-33). And fewer than six-in-ten Millennials identify with any branch of Christianity, compared with seven-in-ten or more among older generations,

    What is becoming clear, is that the younger generation, which has better access to modern education, is not as heavily indoctrinated as the older generation it is gradually replacing.
    Only the most repressive sects can keep significant numbers of their young isolated from outside ideas, or historical and scientific knowledge.



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  • the younger generation, which has better access to modern education, is not as heavily indoctrinated as the older generation it is gradually replacing.

    Exactly so.

    Atheists notably produce off-spring that are the most various in any of their future affiliations out of any religious or non-religious grouping. Kids, given a chance, rebel, which is healthy. Where they end up is another story…



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  • I would like to know if there are any other periods in history where changes were so rapid.

    Given that people don’t tend to change faith after age 20 or so, I think you should be able to make fairly good projections based on projected birth rates.



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  • Let’s think about what could be fueling this collapse of religion:

    the internet. There are videos, ebooks, blogs, debates. Not that long ago you would not even know of the existence of books critical of religion. It is very hard to keep a child from learning something other than the parents’ religion.
    the child molesting and child abuse scandals in many churches.
    the incredible crassness and money-grubbing of the televangelists.
    The internet means the people most important to you live all over the planet. They used to live within a few blocks of your local church.
    international news. It is clear if there were a god, he does not give a flying fig about anyone. Learning about the extreme craziness religion drives people to in other parts of the world.
    it is like leaven. The more atheists you have, the more effect they have on the general population. It is an exponential process.
    even if people do not understand it, they accept that scientists have to know what they are doing, or they could not produce all these technological marvels. Religious people produce nothing. This trust in god is more for show than practice.
    it has become part of the generational rebellion. I don’t know if we can count on that continuing. A future generation might rebel by mindlessly embracing the silliest woo.



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  • “What is becoming clear, is that the younger generation, which has better access to modern education, is not as heavily indoctrinated as the older generation it is gradually replacing.”

    If that is the case then perhaps we are being a little paranoid protesting the encroachment of religion into science classes and the general perception of educational dumbing down. Maybe there is just no neat simple answer. Certainly we should remain vigilant to maintain and raise educational standards.



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  • A word of caution. People lie. Pollsters are notoriously inept at providing a clear, focused description of the public mood. Their predictions for the recent UK Election were wrong to the point of being farcical.
    And public opinion is extremely volatile, the advertising induced media climate probably bears a great responsibility for this. People (in my experience) like to think they are independent but actually prefer others to form their opinions for them. Thus any public figure with charisma will become a figure of consequence and this explains how political (parties) can move from pariah to saviour in a four year period.



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  • Perhaps the most encouraging and hopefully long term aspect of the decline in religiosity, is that it appears to be “bottom-up”. Top-down initiatives e.g. in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, have been to an extent reversed. It is important that people freely chose what and what not to believe rather than having it imposed on them



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  • at least, it means they are leaving some fairy tales beliefs..
    even if they don’t call themselves atheists, i think it’s already a big step for a secular society



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  • Given that people don’t tend to change faith after age 20 or so…

    Just curious where this came from. I’ve known (anecdotally, of course) several people to change faith beyond their third decade.

    Steve



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  • Philoctetes
    May 20, 2015 at 7:23 am

    If that is the case then perhaps we are being a little paranoid protesting the encroachment of religion into science classes and the general perception of educational dumbing down. Maybe there is just no neat simple answer. Certainly we should remain vigilant to maintain and raise educational standards.

    The problem is in the third world where the locals recognise the superiority of western technology and medicine, but missionaries shamelessly use modern medicine and communications as part of packages of woo to sell their god-delusions!

    Meanwhile capitalist multinationals and foreign governments use slush funds and “aid”, to finance corrupt governments who are “business-friendly”( – for a price), and can be relied on to promote the trade of the arms importers and asset-grabbers!

    (Historically, at first, the Africans had the land and minerals, and the colonialists the Bibles)



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  • I think that once you hit your teen years, you begin to question the religion you are brought up in. I began to question my christian upbringing at 11 and decided to dump it by 12. I have overheard my classmates question it as well, while in there teens.

    I have seen a couple of people on youtube say they dumped it at 7 and another at 9.

    The reality is that very few dump it, but everyone questions their faith.



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  • “Growth has been especially great among Muslims and Hindus,”

    This is probably due to immigration.

    In Canada, the amount of immigration is quite large to the point that it is rare to see a french person in Montreal. It look like 50% are immigrants in Montreal. I assume it is the same in every major metropolitan area.



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  • I think that’s ok. Religion is musch worse than faith politically. I also think that for many you need a long spell out of religion before becoming an atheist, but just leaving any organization that instructs you on which humans you should consider inferior is a huge gain for democracy



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  • 19
    ScottCA says:

    I was taking a look through the Canadian Constitution act of 1982 and was immediately dismayed to find this at the very beginning:

    “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”

    Why did they feel it necessary to invoke an invisible man? Doesn’t this basing the constitution in the rule of a fictional mythology pretty much invalidate everything that follows?

    Also can anyone tell me where I can post topics of my own on this site, if I am just looking for a discussion with the community here?



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  • I agree. Anecdotally, I also perceive an increase in people morphing their religious beliefs even later in life. I suspect that increased cross-pollination of ideas via Internet and people migration may be influencing. Curious if there is data out there.



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  • vrej
    May 20, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    I think that once you hit your teen years, you begin to question the religion you are brought up in. I began to question my christian upbringing at 11 and decided to dump it by 12. I have overheard my classmates question it as well, while in there teens.

    There are developmental causes for dumping childish thinking, as people reach the “FORMAL OPERATIONAL STAGE” of maturing mental development, which is also the reason why fundamentalist religions try to retard mental development and the learning of deductive reasoning, in favour of childish “faith-thinking” and fallacious circular thinking, copied from glorified authority figures.
    http://psychology.about.com/od/behavioralpsychology/l/bl-piaget-stages.htm



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  • ad nauseam
    May 19, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    It looks to me like the nones are just tired of all of the rhetoric and power grabs from all sides and don’t like being pushed by any group trying to “convert” the culture (religious and non-religious).

    How would someone be pushed by a group to “convert” to being a non-stamp-collector or non-religious? Are there proselytising groups of non-stamp-collectors?
    This looks like a false equivalence.

    Giving up a hobby or a god-delusion, does not necessarily lead to joining some anti-stamp-collecting group or anti-theist group. It just means dumping the stamps/gods and moving on to other (secular) activities.



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  • ScottCA
    May 21, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Also can anyone tell me where I can post topics of my own on this site, if I am just looking for a discussion with the community here?

    That used to be an option, but is no longer offered.

    What you can do is put your own links on to relevant related discussions of similar topics.



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