Religious affiliation in the United States since 1910: The long, steady decline of Mainline Protestantism

On Thursday, I referenced the dramatic decline in Mainline Protestantism over the past century.  Here’s some data from the General Social Survey that illustrate this change.  I took the question asking respondents in which religious tradition they were raised, calculated in which decade they were 16 years old, and estimated American affiliation rates at that time.  Note, this presents the religious affiliation of young people, not adults, and they are not the same since family size varies by religious tradition.

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  • Margarita Mooney


    Mark Chaves book American Religion: Continuities and Trends (see: ) also documents the trend of the decline of Mainline Protestantism. His book pays careful attention to multiple GSS surveys and compares them to other estimates of religious denominations.

    His estimates are similar to yours for the decline of Mainline Protestants and the increase of Evangelicals, but not Catholics (according to Chaves, Catholics have been about 25% of the U.S. adult population for the last several decades). If anyone is looking for a book that has carefully studied trends in denominational affiliation, Chaves’s book has the most careful analysis. And it is a short, easy read.

    Margarita Mooney

    • Bradley Wright

      Thank you, Margarita. Yes, the difference between the # of adult Catholics and kids raised Catholic is telling…