For my readers outside of the United States, the Pew Research Center is an organization that conducts data-driven social science research on issues and attitudes shaping both the United States and the world. They are “nonprofit, nonpartisan and nonadvocacy” and their research is widely cited and is generally considered reliable. They focus very heavily on polling and demographics. They have regularly published research on the United States’ religious attitudes and demographics.
The U.S. Census does not ask questions about religion.
The Religious Landscape Studies were designed to fill the gap. Comparing two virtually identical surveys, conducted seven years apart, can bring important trends into sharp relief. In addition, the very large samples in both 2007 and 2014 included hundreds of interviews with people from small religious groups that account for just 1% or 2% of the U.S. population, such as Mormons, Episcopalians and Seventh-day Adventists. This makes it possible to paint demographic and religious profiles of numerous denominations that cannot be described by smaller surveys.
A few key items that might interest people:
- There has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of people identifying as “unaffiliated,” a group that includes agnostics and atheists. They are the second largest group after Evangelicals.
- All major Christian groups, Evangelicals, Mainline Protestant and Catholics, have declined as a percentage of the population. Mainline Protestants and Catholics have declined dramatically. Evangelical Christians have grown in absolute numbers, but declined slightly as a percentage.
- Non-Christian faiths have grown, with the main growth occurring among Hindus and Muslims.
- Switching religions is a common occurrence in the U.S.
- “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.”
- “If switching among the three Protestant traditions… is added to the total, then the share of Americans who currently have a different religion than they did in childhood rises to 42%.”
- Religious switching has mainly resulted in gains among the unaffiliated. “But for every person who has joined a religion after having been raised unaffiliated, there are more than four people who have become religious “nones” after having been raised in some religion. This 1:4 ratio is an important factor in the growth of the unaffiliated population.”
- The percentage of the unaffiliated who describe themselves as atheists or agnostic has grown.
You can read the report on the Pew website.
I don’t have any thoughts on the report yet myself, but I’d love to hear yours if you have any.