Secularizing Shifts in American Society Continue

Latest Pew Research Center Survey of Religious Composition of United States

Secularizing Shifts American Society
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The secularizing shifts evident in American society so far in the 21st-century show no signs of slowing. The latest Pew Research Center survey of the religious composition of the United States finds the religiously unaffiliated share of the public is 6 percentage points higher than it was five years ago and 10 points higher than a decade ago.

Christians continue to make up a majority of the U.S. populace, but their share of the adult population is 12 points lower in 2021 than it was in 2011. In addition, the share of U.S. adults who say they pray on a daily basis has been trending downward, as has the share who say religion is “very important” in their lives.

Currently, about three-in-ten U.S. adults (29%) are religious “nones” – people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular” when asked about their religious identity. Self-identified Christians of all varieties (including Protestants, Catholics, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Orthodox Christians) make up 63% of the adult population. Christians now outnumber religious “nones” by a ratio of a little more than two-to-one. In 2007, when the Center began asking its current question about religious identity, Christians outnumbered “nones” by almost five-to-one (78% vs. 16%).

The recent declines within Christianity are concentrated among Protestants. Today, 40% of U.S. adults are Protestants, a group that is broadly defined to include nondenominational Christians and people who describe themselves as “just Christian” along with Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and members of many other denominational families. The Protestant share of the population is down 4 percentage points over the last five years and has dropped 10 points in 10 years.

By comparison, the Catholic share of the population, which had ticked downward between 2007 and 2014, has held relatively steady in recent years. As of 2021, 21% of U.S. adults describe themselves as Catholic, identical to the Catholic share of the population in 2014.

Within Protestantism, evangelicals continue to outnumber those who are not evangelical. Currently, 60% of Protestants say “yes” when asked whether they think of themselves as a “born-again or evangelical Christian,” while 40% say “no” or decline to answer the question.

This pattern exists among both White and Black Protestants. Among White Protestants, 58% now say “yes” when asked whether they think of themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians, compared with 42% who say “no” (or decline to answer the question). Among Black Protestants, evangelicals outnumber non-evangelicals by two-to-one (66% vs. 33%).

Overall, both evangelical and non-evangelical Protestants have seen their shares of the population decline as the percentage of U.S. adults who identity with Protestantism has dropped. Today, 24% of U.S. adults describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Protestants, down 6 percentage points since 2007. During the same period, there also has been a 6-point decline in the share of adults who are Protestant but not born-again or evangelical (from 22% to 16%).

 

These are among the key findings of the latest National Public Opinion Reference Survey (NPORS), conducted by Pew Research Center from May 29 to Aug. 25, 2021. NPORS is an annual survey (first done in 2020) conducted online and on paper (by mail) among a nationally representative group of respondents selected using address-based sampling from the U.S. Postal Service’s delivery sequence file. The Center uses NPORS to produce benchmark estimates for several characteristics of the U.S. population, including Americans’ political and religious affiliations. Readers interested in additional details about NPORS can find them in the May 2021 report “How Pew Research Center Uses Its National Public Opinion Reference Survey (NPORS).”