Study: evangelicals becoming more devout, Catholics less

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Evangelical Protestants have become more devoted to their religious beliefs over the last three decades, even as Catholics have become less attached to their faith, new research finds.

The denominational differences come even as religious affiliations have decreased overall in America, with the number of people who claim no religious affiliation at all doubling from 7 percent in 1990 to 14 percent in 2000, said study researcher Philip Schwadel, a sociologist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Nevertheless, Schwadel said, these unaffiliated individuals seem to be dropping out of religious institutions that they were previously ambivalent about. People who feel strongly about their faith are as numerous as ever.

“The proportion of Americans who say they have a very strong religious affiliation over time is very stable,” Schwadel told LiveScience.

Schwadel based his findings on a major questionnaire called the General Social Survey, which has been administered to a cross-section of Americans yearly or every other year since 1974. Among the questions on this survey are several about religion, including one that asks how strongly affiliated people feel about their denomination. [8 Ways Religion Impacts Your Life]

By analyzing about 40,000 responses over the decades, Schwadel was able to track changes in how strongly tied people felt to their religion. He found that the total number of strongly affiliated people stayed basically steady around 37 percent, with a small, short-lived bump to 43 percent in 1984 and 1985.

The people who identified as religious but said they weren’t strongly tied to their religion became less common over time, however, dropping from 56 percent in 1990 and 1991 down to 45 percent between 2008 and 2010. This coincided with the uptick in unaffiliated Americans.

“The tremendous growth in being unaffiliated came, I think not very surprisingly, from the relatively uncommitted Americans,” Schwadel said.

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