Number of Americans not identified with any religion grows

By agency reporter
14 Oct 2012

A report from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion is growing at a rapid pace.

About one-fifth of the US public – and a third of adults under age 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling. In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15 per cent to just under 20 per cent of all US adults.

Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly six per cent of the US public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14 per cent).

This large and growing group of Americans is less religious than the public at large on many conventional measures, including frequency of attendance at religious services and the degree of importance they attach to religion in their lives. However, many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way.

Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68 per cent). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58 per cent), more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37 per cent), and one-in-five say they pray every day (21 per cent).

The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans – sometimes called the rise of the “nones” – is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones.

A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32 per cent), compared with just one-in-ten among those who are 65 and older (9 per cent). And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives.

While the ranks of the unaffiliated have grown significantly over the past five years, the Protestant share of the population has shrunk. In 2007, 53 per cent of adults in Pew Research Center surveys described themselves as Protestant.

In multiple surveys conducted in the first half of 2012, fewer than half of American adults say they are Protestant (48 per cent). This marks the first time in Pew Research Center surveys that the Protestant share of the population has dipped significantly below 50 per cent

The decline is concentrated among white Protestants, including those who consider themselves born-again or evangelical Protestants as well as those who do not.

The new report is based on an analysis of dozens of Pew Research Center surveys conducted in recent years among tens of thousands of respondents. It charts the growth of religiously unaffiliated Americans, describes their demographic characteristics and explores their social and political attitudes.

The report also includes findings from a new survey conducted jointly by the Pew Research Center and the PBS television programme, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, produced by Thirteen for WNET New York, which delves more deeply into the religious beliefs and practices of this group.

The new survey was conducted among a nationally representative sample of adults in all 50 states, including 958 who are religiously unaffiliated.

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly is also producing a three-part mini-series, “None of the Above: The Rise of the Religiously Unaffiliated,” based in large part on the survey's findings. It began airing nationally on PBS this weekend, and continues on 19 and 26 October.

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life conducts surveys, demographic analyses and other social science research on important aspects of religion and public life in the US and around the world.

As part of the Washington-based Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, non-advocacy organization, the Pew Forum does not take positions on policy debates or any of the issues it covers.

* The full report is available on the Pew Forum’s website: http://www.pewforum.org/

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License. Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.