Christianity Declining in America, Unaffiliated Demographic Grows


Key findings from a recent Pew Research Center survey evidences a number of changes in the religious landscape of the United States. This entry will briefly mention several of these changes.

The Study

Pew‘s study is based on a recent random-digit-dial (RDD) political polling via telephone. In other words, Pew conducted telephone surveys in 2018 and 2019 and has used this data to make comparisons to prior results produced in their earlier (and far larger) Religious Landscape Studies of 2007 and 2014. The two previous RDD studies were conducted with the purpose of examining the changes in America’s religious life and habits, particularly in relation to public belief in God, church attendance, and so on. These can be compared to the results of the telephone surveys in 2018 and 2019, which were obtained via interviews with roughly 35 000 respondents. Respondents were asked several dozen questions about their religious identities, beliefs, and practices.

Questions Asked

Of the dozens of questions asked (often concerning the respondent’s age, race, education, and other background characteristics), two are of particular importance for religious identity and religious attendance:

[1] “What is your present religion, if any? Are you Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox such as Greek or Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, something else, or nothing in particular?”

[2] “Aside from weddings and funerals, how often do you attend religious services? More than once a week, once a week, once or twice a month, a few times a year, seldom, or never?”

According to Pew, these two questions (one about religious identity, the other about religious attendance) taken together can help shed light on religious trends in the United States.

Christianity Declines in the United States

According to results, 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christian, which is down 12% over the past ten years. This means that both Protestantism and Catholicism have been experiencing losses in population share. 43% of adults identify with Protestantism, which is down from 51% in 2009, and 20% are Catholic, down from 23% in 2009.

Changes in the Christian demographic is also “broad-based.” In other words, the Christian share of the population is down (largely at the expense of the growth of religious “nones” or the unaffiliated) across several groups: whites, blacks, Hispanics; men and women; across all regions of the country; and among college graduates and those with lower levels of educational attainment. 84% of the members of the Silent Generation (those Americans born between 1928 and 1945) describe themselves as Christian (84%), as do 76% of the Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964). A very different image emerges concerning Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996), of whom only 49% describe themselves as Christian. As a total group, there are around 167 million Christian adults in the United States.

Additional interesting findings from the study include: 47% of Hispanics now describe themselves as Catholic, down from 57% a decade ago. Women are more likely than men to say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month (50% versus 40%). The number of women who identify as Christian has declined from 80% to 69% over the last decade.

The Unaffiliated Demographic Grows

The unaffiliated, also known as religious “nones”, refers to Americans who describe their religious identity as either atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” This demographic now stands at 26%, which is up from 17% in 2009. The group has grown by almost 30 million over the last ten years. Atheists are still a minority constituting just 4% of the population although this is an increase of 2% since 2009. Agnostics constitute 5% of adults, up from 3% a decade ago. 17% of American adults describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” up from 12% in 2009. Pew found that although unaffiliated growth is most pronounced among young adults, it is also increasingly found among younger people and most groups of older adults.

Additional interesting findings include: Hispanics who are religiously unaffiliated stands at 23%, up from 15% in 2009. Women are less likely than men to describe themselves as religious “nones” (23% versus 30%). The share of “nones” among women has risen by 10% since 2009.

Decline in Religious Attendance, Some Christian Attendance Remains Unchanged

The Pew data shows that the rate of religious attendance is also declining. 17% of Americans say they never attend religious services, up from 11% a decade ago. 31% attend religious services at least once a week, which is down from 37% in 2009. Those who say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month has dropped by 7%. The share who say they attend religious services less often (if at all) has also risen by 7%. Further, Christian church attendance once or twice a month remains the same (62%).

Non-Christian Religions in the United States

Non-Christian religions in the United States have grown slightly, from 5% in 2009 to 7% in 2019. 2% of Americans are Jewish, while Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism are all 1%. 3% of Americans identify with other faiths including, for instance, those who claim to abide by their own personal religious beliefs and people who describe themselves as “spiritual.”


Pew Research Center. 2019. In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace. Available.



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