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Religious identification:
How American adults view themselves

2007 to 2019:
Religious affiliation by state.
Decline of Christianity in the U.S.
What people think of other faith groups.

church 2008: Graphical state-by-state display of ARIS data:

USA Today has a very informative graphic of religious affiliation across the U.S. See: http://www.usatoday.com/

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downwards graphBetween 2007 and 2019: The decline of Christianity in the United States has become severe:

Don't panic! The decline is not nearly as bad as is shown in the image on the left. That was the only free graph we could dig up.

Data from 2015-MAY:

In an article, the Pew Research Center reported that:

"Between 2007 and 2014, the Christian share of the population fell from 78.4% to 70.6%, driven mainly by declines among both mainline Protestants and Catholics. The unaffiliated experienced the most growth, and the share of Americans who belong to non-Christian faiths also increased." 1

This is a decrease of 7.8% over a 7 year interval, or about 1.1 percentage points a year!

Among those leaving Christianity over this seven year interval:

  • A small percentage of former Christians appear to have joined new religious movements (NRMs) or other world religions. The percentage affiliation with non-Christian faiths rose from 4.7% to 5.9% (1.2 percentage points) over the same seven year interval.

  • Most of the former Christians appear to have:
    • left organized religion entirely and became secularists, agnostics, or atheists;

    • started to describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious:" or

    • simply became NOTAs: those NOT Affiliated with any religion.

During the next seven year interval -- from 2007 to 2014, NOTAs increased by 6.7 percentage points from 16.1% to 22.8% of the adult population. ... almost 1 percentage point a year!

Data from 2019-OCT:

Pew Research updated their data on U.S. adult's religious affiliation. The percentage of American adults who identify as Christian has continued a steady decline, dropping from 70.6% in 2007 to 65% in 2019. This has resulted in a rate of decline of 1.1 percentage points a year. 3

If the above rate continues, then the percentage of Christians in the United States would become a minority by the year 2033.

Since World War II, this same process had been observed in other countries, including the UK, other European countries, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

Those who regard themselves as not unaffiliated religiously -- the NOTAs -- rose from 16% to 26% during the same 12 year interval from 2007 to 2019.

"NOTAs" are often referred to as "nones." This is not a particularly useful term because the two words "nones" and "nuns" are homophones. A "homophone" does not refer to a cell phone owned by a person with a homosexual orientation. It refers to two or more words having different meanings, but which sound the same. To make things worse, both "nones" and "nuns" are religious terms.

We prefer the term "NOTA." Unfortunately, "Nota" has additional meanings: it is an a cappella group from San Juan, a automobile manufacturer in Australia, a word processor program for scholars, the acronym of the National Organ Transplant Act, and part of a Latin phrase "Nota-bene" from which "NB" is derived. On a positive note, a NOTA symbol has been adopted by India's Election Commission, in order:

"... to enable electors, who do not wish to vote for any of the candidates, to exercise their right without violation of the secrecy of their decision.

There are major generation gaps among the Christians, Notas, and those affiliated with non-Christian faiths. In their 2019 survey, 3 Pew found that:

Birth Year Generation Name % Christians % Other than Christians NOTAs
1929-1945 Silent Generation 84% 4% 10%
1946-1964 Baby Boomers 76% 6% 17%
1965-1980 Generation X 67% 6% 25%
1981-1986 Millennials 49% 9% 40%

Note that Christians among Millennials are almost a minority, and the NOTAs are approaching a majority! As more Millennials reach adulthood and more of the my generation -- the Silent Generation -- die off, Christianity is certain to reach a minority status.

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Church Attendance:

As one would expect, Pew Research reported that church attendance was declining between 2007 and 2019:

  • U.S. adults who claim to attend religious services once a month or more declined from 54% to 45%.

  • Those who claim to attend a few times a year or less increased from 45% to 54%. 3

However, these data are not realistic. When people are counted in a given county, they are usually found to have exaggerated their church attendance by a factor of two, when talking to strangers over the phone who claim to be calling from a confidential public opinion group.

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2014: How adults of different religions or faith groups think of each other's faith:

The Pew Research Center conducted a poll involving 3,217 randomly selected adults during 2014-JUN. They asked each person to rate adults from their own religious group and from nine other religious groups: Agnostic, All Protestants, Atheist, Black Protestants, Catholics, Evangelical Christians, Jewish, Nothing in particular, White mainline, Unaffiliated. The results' margin of error is ~+mn~2.2 percentage points. They were asked:

"We'd like to get your feelings toward a number of groups on a 'feeling thermometer.' A rating of 0 degrees means you feel as cold and negative as possible. A rating of 100 degrees means you feel as warm and positive as possible. You would rate the group at 50 degrees if you don't feel particularly positive or negative toward the group." 2

Many adults seem to consider their own religious group to have the "fullness of truth" and rate it warmly.

  • Jews rate other Jews with a rating of 89.
  • Evangelicals rate other Evangelicals at 82.
  • Atheists rate other Atheists also at 82.
  • Catholics rate other Catholics at 80.

Adults tend to rate religious groups that are the most different from themselves coolly. For example:

  • Evangelicals rate Atheists at 25
  • Atheists rate Evangelicals at 28
  • Evangelicals rate Hindus at 38
  • Those not affiliated with any religious group (NOTAs) rate Evangelicals at 41 and Mormons at 44.

Low ratings were given to:

  • Muslims; ratings ranged from 35 to 47 by non-Muslims.
  • Atheists; ratings ranged from 25 to 66 by non-Atheists.

High ratings were given to:

  • Jews; ratings averaged 63 and ranged from 58 to 69 by non-Jews
  • Catholics; ratings averaged 62 and ranged from 47 to 63 by non-Catholics. 2

The Pew study also asked what the political affiliation of the people who were interviewed for the survey.

They found that:

  • Those who identified themselves as Democrats, or leaning towards voting Democrat, gave all faith groups lukewarm rating, between 44 and 62.

  • Those who identified themselves as Republican, or leaning towards voting Republican, rated Evangelicals, Jews, and Catholics positively, were lukewarm towards Mormons, Buddhists, and Hindus, and disliked Atheists and Muslims. 2

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "America’s Changing Religious Landscape: Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow," Pew Research Center, 2015-MAY-12, at: http://www.pewforum.org/
  2. "How Americans feel about religious groups," Pew Research Center, 2014-JUL-16, at: http://www.pewforum.org/
  3. "In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace," Pew Research Center, 2019-OCT-17, at: https://www.pewforum.org/

Site navigation:

 Home > Christianity > History, beliefs... > Practices > US religious ID > here

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Copyright 2016 to 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2016-MAR-20
Latest update: 2019-OCT-17
Author: B.A. Robinson 

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