"Empty pews" by Jason Scott / CC BY 2.0

The decline of religion in American family life

Dec 13, 2019

By Daniel A. Cox

Most Americans today continue to be raised in a religious denomination or tradition. Only 12 percent of Americans report being raised outside a formal religious tradition. Half (50 percent) report being raised Protestant, close to three in 10 (29 percent) say they were raised Catholic, and significantly fewer Americans were brought up Mormon (2 percent), Jewish (2 percent), Muslim (1 percent), Orthodox (1 percent), or something else (1 percent).

However, there are significant differences in the religious upbringing of Americans across generations. Young adults (age 18 to 29) are far more likely to have been raised without religion than are seniors (age 65 or older). Roughly one in five (22 percent) young adults report that they were not raised in any particular religion, compared to only 3 percent of seniors. Notably, the proportion of young adults who have always been religiously unaffiliated is nearly as large as those who have left religion to become unaffiliated.

Younger Americans have had less robust religious experiences during their childhood than previous generations have. Fewer than one in three (29 percent) young adults say they attended religious services with their family at least weekly when they were growing up. More than half (52 percent) of seniors say the same. About one-third (32 percent) of young adults say they never attended religious services during their formative years. Young adults also report lower rates of attending Sunday school or other religious education programs as children. Only 27 percent of young adults say they attended Sunday school at least weekly. Among seniors, more than half (55 percent) say they attended Sunday school or a similar type of religious program during their childhood.

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