The Rise of the Nones Continues

The Pew Research Center has released a massive new survey of more than 35,000 Americans and it shows that the trend toward people leaving Christianity and becoming “unaffiliated” is continuing at a significant rate. The percentage of Christians dropped almost 8% from 2007 to 2014, while the “nones” increased by more than 6%.

The United States remains home to more Christians than any other country, and a large majority of Americans – roughly seven-in-ten – continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith. But the major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans finds that the percentage of adults 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 groups 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.

These are among the key findings of the Pew Research Center’s second U.S. Religious Landscape Study, a follow-up to its first comprehensive study of religion in America, conducted in 2007…

Among other findings in the new study:

  • Christians probably have lost ground not only in their relative share of the U.S. population but also in absolute numbers. In 2007, there were 227 million adults in the United States, and a little more than 78% of them – or roughly 178 million – identified as Christians. Between 2007 and 2014, the overall size of the U.S. adult population grew by about 18 million people, to nearly 245 million. But the share of adults who identify as Christians fell to just under 71%, or approximately 173 million Americans, a net decline of about 5 million.
  • 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%).
  • Religious intermarriage appears to be on the rise. Among Americans who have gotten married since 2010, nearly four-in-ten (39%) report that they are in religiously mixed marriages, compared with 19% among those who got married before 1960.
  • While many U.S. religious groups are aging, the unaffiliated are comparatively young – and getting younger, on average, over time. As a rising cohort of highly unaffiliated Millennials reaches adulthood, the median age of unaffiliated adults has dropped to 36, down from 38 in 2007 and far lower than the general (adult) population’s median age of 46. By contrast, the median age of mainline Protestant adults in the new survey is 52 (up from 50 in 2007), and the median age of Catholic adults is 49 (up from 45 seven years earlier).
  • Switching religion is a common occurrence in the United States. If all Protestants were treated as a single religious group, then fully 34% of American adults currently have a religious identity different from the one in which they were raised. This is up six points since 2007, when 28% of adults identified with a religion different from their childhood faith. If switching among the three Protestant traditions (e.g., from mainline Protestantism to evangelicalism, or from evangelicalism to a historically black Protestant denomination) is added to the total, then the share of Americans who currently have a different religion than they did in childhood rises to 42%.
  • Christianity – and especially Catholicism – has been losing more adherents through religious switching than it has been gaining. More than 85% of American adults were raised Christian, but nearly a quarter of those who were raised Christian no longer identify with Christianity. Former Christians represent 19.2% of U.S. adults overall. Both the mainline and historically black Protestant traditions have lost more members than they have gained through religious switching, but within Christianity the greatest net losses, by far, have been experienced by Catholics. Nearly one-third of American adults (31.7%) say they were raised Catholic. Among that group, fully 41% no longer identify with Catholicism. This means that 12.9% of American adults are former Catholics, while just 2% of U.S. adults have converted to Catholicism from another religious tradition. No other religious group in the survey has such a lopsided ratio of losses to gains.
  • The evangelical Protestant tradition is the only major Christian group in the survey that has gained more members than it has lost through religious switching. Roughly 10% of U.S. adults now identify with evangelical Protestantism after having been raised in another tradition, which more than offsets the roughly 8% of adults who were raised as evangelicals but left for another religious tradition or who no longer identify with any organized faith.
  • The Christian share of the population is declining and the religiously unaffiliated share is growing in all four major geographic regions of the country. Religious “nones” now constitute 19% of the adult population in the South (up from 13% in 2007), 22% of the population in the Midwest (up from 16%), 25% of the population in the Northeast (up from 16%) and 28% of the population in the West (up from 21%). In the West, the religiously unaffiliated are more numerous than Catholics (23%), evangelicals (22%) and every other religious group.
  • Whites continue to be more likely than both blacks and Hispanics to identify as religiously unaffiliated. Among whites, 24% say they have no religion, compared with 20% of Hispanics and 18% of blacks. But the religiously unaffiliated have grown (and Christians have declined) as a share of the population within all three of these racial and ethnic groups.

One caution here. Please do not equate “religiously unaffiliated” with atheist, agnostic or humanist. 3.1% of those surveyed described themselves as atheist and 4% as agnostic. The rest of that “unaffiliated” group described themselves as “nothing in particular.” Some of those are atheist or agnostic, I’m sure, but a whole lot of them also fall into categories like “spiritual but not religious” and those who have supernatural beliefs but avoid organized religion.

You can, of course, expect a good deal of hue and cry from some Christian circles about this and lots of finger-pointing and hand-wringing over what causes it. That should be fun, at least.

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  • llewelly

    What is notable is that 79% of the unaffiliated were raised in religious families. This is precisely what the Barna group study projecting that religion would dominate the future missed … their projection assumes that cannot happen in Muslim nations, or Latin America, or in Africa .

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    …the unaffiliated are comparatively young – and getting younger, on average, over time.

    No wonder their numbers are increasing! Reverse aging is a pretty sweet perk for converting to unafilliated.

  • http://healthvsmedicine.blogspot.com cervantes

    I would say that many of the “spiritual but not religious” people really are non-theists. “Spirituality” is a vague term that stands for having moving experiences such as appreciating nature and art and other people, and what people think of as positive traits such as self-awareness, empathy, searching for meaning, that sort of thing. It doesn’t necessarily imply believing in a supernatural being. The terms “atheism” is stigmatizing, so people avoid applying it to themselves.

    I think saying you’re “spiritual but not religious” doesn’t actually mean anything, but I’d cut folks some slack on that one.

  • eric

    3.1% of those surveyed described themselves as atheist and 4% as agnostic. The rest of that “unaffiliated” group described themselves as “nothing in particular.” Some of those are atheist or agnostic, I’m sure, but a whole lot of them also fall into categories like “spiritual but not religious” and those who have supernatural beliefs but avoid organized religion.

    We’ll get a better sense of what these self-labels mean when they release Part II, which will discuss specific beliefs such as “do you believe there is an afterlife.” I’m guessing that the 2014 nones will be no less mixed up than the 2007 nones; we’ll see some percentage of self-identified atheists saying they believe in God or a soul or an afterlife and other inconsistencies. But OTOH it will also probably show some percent of the “religious but nothing in particular” nones say they don’t believe in God.

  • llewelly
  • raven

    Xpost from Mano Singham’s blog yesterday.

    You can ground truth these reports. By checking your local areas and their churches.

    I get a local fundie xian churches newsletter every now and then. It’s free which is its one redeeming feaature.

    The local churches are losing members and money quite rapidly. To the point where they are laying off staff and deferring maintenance on their buildings. The largest xian bookstore in the USA also declared bankruptcy.

    The really odd thing about the locals. They have absolutely no idea why they are bleeding members and money!!!! None. (If they asked me, I would just tell them to look in the mirror and read Freethoughtblogs. They wouldn’t have the courage though.) This is a hazard of a reality free, thought free existence.

  • raven

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the Nones being Fake Atheists. It works both ways.

    1. A lot of xians are just box checkers, census xians.

    2. And yes, there is data on this. Barna has 37% of the US as post-xians. The Ipso Mori poll in the UK found the same thing.

    They don’t go to church, have no idea what is in the bible because they never read it, and have no idea what xian dogmas and doctrines are. But they check “xian” because they were raised in a nominally xian household and think they should. Church attendance only runs around 25%.

    3. The hardcore Oogedy Boogedies aren’t much better. It’s just hollowed out, right wing extremist politics with a few crosses stuck on for show. The crosses aren’t important any more.

    While they say they want to save your soul, they seem a lot more interested in hate, lies, power, and money. Which makes sense. Souls might exist but probably don’t. OTOH, power and money definitely exist and are very useful.

  • raven

    You can, of course, expect a good deal of hue and cry from some Christian circles about this and lots of finger-pointing and hand-wringing over what causes it. That should be fun, at least.

    It is amusing.

    1. Most of the xians don’t do facts, data, or thinking at all. So why this is happening is a huge mystery to them.

    2. Their all purpose explanation for everything is demons and satan. I’m sure the imaginary beings will get blamed for this one.

    Because, their other all purpose explanation is even worse. God is in charge and everything happens for a reason. Their god must hate US xianity then!!! (This would be a benign god. They don’t do benign gods either.)

    3. And of course, it is all Obama’s fault.

    So the real reason is demons, satan, god/jesus/holy spirit, and Obama. Quite a powerful combination here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hmoulding Helge

    “I wouldn’t join any club that would have me as a member.”

  • anubisprime

    raven @ 6

    They have absolutely no idea why they are bleeding members and money!!!!

    That shall be their undoing…

    Totally bloody clueless…so they only thing that springs to their addled mind is to double down on the persecution of anyone they can take it out on. then claim they are persecuted themselves to distract folk from mentioning their perfidy.

    It is not a winning move methinks…it is born out of fear and desperation…and that never ends well!

  • abb3w

    @0, Ed Brayton

    One caution here. Please do not equate “religiously unaffiliated” with atheist, agnostic or humanist. 3.1% of those surveyed described themselves as atheist and 4% as agnostic. The rest of that “unaffiliated” group described themselves as “nothing in particular.” Some of those are atheist or agnostic, I’m sure, but a whole lot of them also fall into categories like “spiritual but not religious” and those who have supernatural beliefs but avoid organized religion.

    For the unaffiliated who identify as neither atheist nor agnostic, I prefer the umbrella label “Nothing In Particular” — shortened to “NIPpers”. And yeah, Ed’s right about the caveats on NIPpers. On the other hand, while NIPpers, atheists, and agnostics are all growing, the survey suggests that the Atheists and Agnostics are growing explosively — both having nearly doubled their numbers since the 2008 report. Of course, that’s rather easier when you’re starting down below 2%, but still impressive.

  • llewelly

    It’s also worth looking at the composition of the religious nones

    Atheists grew from 1.6 to 3.1%, while agnostics grew from 2.4 to 4.0% .

    Meanwhile the “religion important” group grew from 5.8 to 6.9%

    So while atheists and agnostics remain a small portion of the “nones”, we are growing fast in proportion to our size. We’ve gone from being about 1/4 of the unaffiliated to almost 1/3 . Meanwhile the “religion important” have gone from being 36% of the unaffiliated to 30% of the unaffiliated.

  • scienceavenger

    You can, of course, expect a good deal of hue and cry from some Christian circles about this and lots of finger-pointing and hand-wringing over what causes it. That should be fun, at least.

    Oh indeed. It didn’t take long. A Fox News analyst tied it to Obama’s lawless executive actions, which reduce American’s faith in our higher institutions like churches.

    Yeah really, he said that.

  • raven

    raven #9: 3. And of course, it is all Obama’s fault.

    and

    #13 A Fox News analyst tied it to Obama’s lawless executive actions, which reduce American’s faith in our higher institutions like churches.

    LOL. I’m more of prophet than Glenn Beck!!!

    Next up. Satan and the demons.

    The reality denying fundies are lost when something actually requires thinking. They are going to spend decades watching their cults decline and never, ever going to know why. (It requires looking in the mirror. And since they don’t cast reflections in mirrors….)

  • whheydt

    Given, from the survey results, that the youngest cohort (18-25 year olds) is the highest in “unaffilliated” (at 36%) and the West is highest in “unaffilliated” among all adults (at 28%), one wonders what figure is for Western 18-25 year olds…has it topped 50%?

    As for the surge in atheist/agnostic…some of that is going to be people who have decide that they’ll take the chance on the label, but whose views didn’t change over the 7 year period.

    The overall implication of the trends *should* be that for a politician to make much of how religious he is will be the “kiss of death” over time. Since the Republicans have made their bed with the religious right in it, this should doom even more of them.

  • anubisprime

    Well they are politicians and as such totally amoral…when it becomes obvious that being tied to the religious is a voter turnoff they will drop them like a hot poker…only sooner!

  • blf

    Next up. Satan and the demons.

    Saw them at the Birth of a Universe concert, about 14bn years ago. Great gig, everything — and I do mean everything — was there. Amazing fireworks show and special effects. Bit cramped at first but the venue inflated and there was plenty of room.

  • wpjoe

    @whheydt says “The overall implication of the trends *should* be that for a politician to make much of how religious he is will be the “kiss of death” over time.”

    I keep wondering about this. At what point will the politicians realize that talking about religion alienates a substantial portion of the electorate, particularly the younger voters? I wonder what the current candidates would say about these new poll numbers.

  • doublereed

    The downfall of organized religion should be celebrated in of itself, even if those people are still religious. It’s really organized religion that tries to push its views on others. When people are just spiritual or whatever, then they generally have a secular mentality.

    Rather than look at it as the rise of atheism, look at it as the rise of secularism.

    @18 wpjoe

    I believe the usual trick is just to pretend that they’ve been on their side the whole time and ignore the history of religious pandering.

  • Michael Heath

    I just read two excellent books on this topic:

    Zuckerman’s most recent book on secularism: http://goo.gl/QM9rTV. Here he covers U.S. non-believers.

    Jesse Bering’s, The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life: http://goo.gl/m6UUmy.

    Zuckerman’s book reads as if it’s too good to true. So while I loved this book (and his last one), I’d love to see a check on his optimism regarding how well U.S. secularists are both behaving and thriving.

    Bering’s book is plods along at the start, especially if you’ve already studied theory of mind theories/hypotheses. However the book really kicks-in when Bering starts studying behavior patterns.

    Especially insightful is how so many atheists still think as if there’s a god without overtly or even unconsciously believing in one. The finding noted above on where atheists come from (parents who indoctrinate them), is probably one likely reason. However the whole culture still treats faith as a feature, and a belief in destiny and a pre-concluded narrative that’s merely playing out.

  • colnago80

    Re doublereed @ #19

    Madison in particular, amongst the founding fathers, although a theist, was severely critical of organized religion in general and Christianity in particular.

  • theignored

    You can, of course, expect a good deal of hue and cry from some Christian circles about this and lots of finger-pointing and hand-wringing over what causes it. That should be fun, at least.

    For example, Ken Ham and “Answers in Genesis”.

    Good!

  • eric

    @18:

    At what point will the politicians realize that talking about religion alienates a substantial portion of the electorate, particularly the younger voters

    I think they’re aware, but the calculation involves an opportunity cost – a trade-off. # of votes given up vs. # of votes gained by doing it. As long as the latter is greater than the former, they’ll continue to do it. As Homer Simpson said: “Awww Lisa, just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand.”

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    The finding that really surprised me is that while the younger cohorts are much less religious than the older ones, every cohort is becoming less religious. I had assumed that the decline in religion was almost entirely generational, and that replacement is what would drive secularism, but it turns out that a lot of old farts are abandoning religion too. When you combine that with generational replacement, the speed at which this is occurring is really quite stunning.

  • http://kamakanui.zenfolio.com Kamaka

    Hell, Area Man, you are surprised by fleeing Catholics?

    I’m surprised any of the old Catholics stick around and pay dues.

  • frankgturner

    @ Area Man #24

    In the past few years before my grandfather passed away (last year, he was 97) he had become a “box checker” who did not attend. He read the Bible once but did not really get it not care to and if you challenged him on his beliefs he would say “well maybe you are right” or just ignore you outright. So I see nothing unusual about some elderly being religiously apathetic. All he really seemed to care about was the sports scores of teams he followed and what put food on his plate. He was a tough guy who served his country in WWII but was not a curious intellectual.

    .

    Many Catholic parishes don’t encourage people to read the Bible or think for themselves. Their attitude is “let us do the interpreting/thinking for you” all because they don’t want parishioners to come to their own conclusions which might disagree with the church’s official position. And then they wonder why people stop caring….

  • martinc

    Raven @ 7:

    They don’t go to church, have no idea what is in the bible because they never read it, and have no idea what xian dogmas and doctrines are.

    I am not sure if you are identifying a different sector, but I think there are a lot of self-labeled ‘Christians’ who have lost identification with any church, but still identify with Christianity. They don’t go to church, they DO have some idea what is in the Bible but only the sanitized bits they were read in Sunday School decades ago, and they have strong ideas about Christian dogma and doctrine – even if the ideas are wrong.

    Those people are the ones the churches have lost, but they have not been gained by atheism. We should not be congratulating ourselves on a movement toward rationality, because these people are still believing what they have always believed, they’ve just lost belief in the salesmen selling the product. They’re non-Paulist Christians (not Ron, Rand or Ru … Paul the Biblical disciple who was instrumental in making Christianity essentially a church, not a philosophical movement) … almost the Henrician heresy, where the need for a church is rejected.

  • abb3w

    @24, Area Man:

    The finding that really surprised me is that while the younger cohorts are much less religious than the older ones, every cohort is becoming less religious. I had assumed that the decline in religion was almost entirely generational, and that replacement is what would drive secularism, but it turns out that a lot of old farts are abandoning religion too. When you combine that with generational replacement, the speed at which this is occurring is really quite stunning.

    My impression is that the effect within cohorts may be more subject to pendulum tendencies; the GSS seems to suggest there was a slight tendency the other direction during 1980-1995, and this may be the counterpart. Circa 2025, I’d tentatively expect the within-cohort shift to level off. However, that seems likely to be overwhelmed by the Homeland Generation entering the political scene — who the trend suggests will be majority unaffiliated.

  • anat

    All those who doubt the significance of the continued rise of the ‘nones’: Note that the data breaks the ‘nones’ down into the following 4 groups: atheists, agnostics, nothing in particular – religion unimportant, nothing in particular – religion important.

    Atheists: grew from 1.6% of the population in 2007 to 3.1% in 2014.

    Agnostics: grew from 2.4% to 4.0%

    NIP, religion not important: 6.3% to 8.8%

    NIP, religion important: 5.8% to 6.9%.

    IOW the proportion of atheists in the population almost doubled, the proportion of agnostics grew by 2/3, the NIP-religion-not-important by less than that and the NIP-religion important by even less. The composition of the ‘nones’ is changing towards greater godlessness.

    The report also gives the median age of various groups:

    For the full sample, median age rose from 45 in 2007 to 46 in 2014.

    Atheists went from 36 in 2007 to 34 in 2014.

    Agnostics from 39 to 34.

    NIP, religion not important from 39 to 37.

    NIP, religion important from 38 to 39.

    So again, the young people leaving the religious identities they were raised with tend to lose religion rather than merely identification with a specific denomination.

    (BTW only other groups with median ages under 40 in 2014 are Muslims, Buddhists and Hindu.)

    This despite lower fertility among atheists:

    Completed fertility (average number of children ever born to adults ages 40 – 59):

    Full sample: 2.1

    Atheists: 1.6

    Agnostics: 1.3

    NIP, religion not-important: 1.7

    NIP, religion important: 2.1

    (If you are curious, Mormons are at 3.4, members of historically black churches 2.5, Catholics 2.3, Evangelicals 2.3, no data on Muslims, Hindu or Buddhists).

    Obviously we are replenishing ourselves via other peoples’ babies.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    NPR had a discussion-show about this study yesterday, and one of the talking-heads they had was a priest who called himself a “professor of moral philosophy” at some Catholic college in (IIRC) the Midwest. His take on the increasing number of “nones” was real simple: Americans are a people who have “extended adolescence,” and this was just people acting like rebellious teenagers and questioning authority just for fun. If I had not been driving at the time, I would have called in and said that such refusal to face reality — or even acknowledge the personhood of non-believers — was part of the reason why sensible adults were dumping backward authoritarian religion.

    Seriously, what kind of “moral philosophy” doesn’t even treat non-believers as full responsible adult persons?

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Also, did the Pew study even mention Paganism? I heard that was one of the fastest-growing religious affiliations in the USA (along with Islam, which they did mention), and yet the NPR show, at least, didn’t mention it AT ALL. I find that omission extremely suspicious.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Many Catholic parishes don’t encourage people to read the Bible or think for themselves. Their attitude is “let us do the interpreting/thinking for you” all because they don’t want parishioners to come to their own conclusions which might disagree with the church’s official position.

    Historical aside: that’s partly a holdover from the days when there were no printing-presses, and the ONLY Bible in any town was the one used by the church. Like many other significant social movements, the Reformation was partly dependent on some new technology, in this case the printing press, which made Bibles more available to the common folk.

  • anat

    Raging Bee, there is a section for ‘Other Faiths’.

    2007 2014

    Other faiths 1.2 1.5

    Unitarians and other liberal faiths 0.7 1.0

    Unitarian (Universalist) 0.3 0.3

    Spiritual but not religious <0.3 0.3

    Deist <0.3 <0.3

    Humanist <0.3 <0.3

    Bit of everything, “own beliefs” <0.3 <0.3

    Other liberal faith groups <0.3 <0.3

    New Age 0.4 0.4

    Pagan/Wiccan 0.3 0.3

    Other New Age <0.3 <0.3

    Native American Religions <0.3 <0.3

    I can't find much else about these groups.

  • anat

    Yikes, I tried to format it as a table, but the board ate my formatting.

  • frankgturner

    @ Raging bee # 32

    While I agree that some influence may come from historical vestiges like you suggest, I have heard modern day clergy say that with a condescending tone to parishoners well versed in theological literature. I have particularly heard it when someone makes an excellent literary observation with which the clergy authority disagrees.

    .

    What I am getting at it the idea of an authority figure who once had power due to the people around him being too naive and undereducated. Individuals are wising up to argument from authority fallacies and many in power see that as a threat to said power (which makes sense, it is a threat to their power). If their power had been based on something honest and reliable then people wising up would not be such a threat.

  • oldskoolnyc

    O’Reilly actually blamed some of the decline on Rap music! The mental gymanastics these people go through to justify their warped beliefs, is amazing! I guess looking within and self-reflection are anathema to them. They are sopwing the seeds of their own destruction, at the same time hastening it, by blaming others.

  • frankgturner

    @ oldskoolnyc

    O’Reilly blaming it on something or someone that had nothing to do with it is so cliche at this point that I don’t think he has brownie points to loose by doing so.