Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Unaffiliated and uncommitted

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has released the results of an extensive survey about religion in America. Things are changing:
More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion - or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, roughly 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.

The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among
Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.
Among its specific findings:
  • Men are significantly more likely than women to claim no religious affiliation. Nearly one-in-five men say they have no formal religious affiliation, compared with roughly 13% of women.
  • The Midwest most closely resembles the religious makeup of the overall population. The South, by a wide margin, has the heaviest concentration of members of evangelical Protestant churches. The Northeast has the greatest concentration of Catholics, and the West has the largest proportion of unaffiliated people, including the largest proportion of atheists and agnostics.
  • People not affiliated with any particular religion stand out for their relative youth compared with other religious traditions. Among the unaffiliated, 31% are under age 30 and 71% are under age 50. Comparable numbers for the overall adult population are 20% and 59%, respectively.
  • By contrast, members of mainline Protestant churches and Jews are older, on average, than members of other groups. Roughly half of Jews and members of mainline churches are age 50 and older, compared with approximately four-in-ten American adults overall.
  • Members of Baptist churches account for one-third of all Protestants and close to one-fifth of the total U.S. adult population. Baptists also account for nearly two-thirds of members of historically black Protestant churches.
Albert Mohler summarized some of the other findings:
  • Most Americans (78.4%) identify themselves as Christians of some sort. This Christian majority seems to be a settled fact for some time to come, with trends such as Hispanic immigration bolstering these numbers.
  • America's Protestant majority - a mainstay of American life from the colonial era to the present - is in decline and Protestant Christians will soon become a minority. The survey revealed that only 51.3% of Americans now identify as Protestants.
  • Evangelicals are now the largest single group of American Christians (26.3%).
  • Roman Catholics (23.9%) are the second-largest Christian grouping, though almost a third of those born into Catholic homes no longer consider themselves as Catholic. In all, almost 10% of all Americans are "former Catholics."
  • Mainline Protestant churches and denominations continue to lose membership and now represent only 18.1% of the population.
  • Those identifying as "unaffiliated" represent a fast-growing segment of the population (16.1%), including atheists (1.6%), agnostics (2.4%) and "nothing in particular" (12.1%).
  • At least 27% of families are interfaith to some extent. The percentage rises to 37% if spouses of different Protestant denominations are included.
  • Among younger Americans (ages 18-29) almost a quarter claim no religious affiliation.
Thanks to Albert Mohler for the reference.

Update: Veith posted these charts illustrating some of the findings. Click on the chart for the full-sized version.Pew Research Center: The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey Reveals a Fluid and Diverse Pattern of Faith

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