Polling and Analysis

November 3, 2015

U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious

Modest Drop in Overall Rates of Belief and Practice, but Religiously Affiliated Americans Are More Devout Than They Were A Few Years Ago.

Is the American public becoming less religious? Yes, at least by some key measures of what it means to be a religious person. An extensive new survey of more than 35,000 U.S. adults finds that the percentages who say they believe in God, pray daily and regularly go to church or other religious services all have declined modestly in recent years.

But the Pew Research Center study also finds a great deal of stability in the U.S. religious landscape. The recent decrease in religious beliefs and behaviors is largely attributable to the “nones” – the growing minority of Americans, particularly in the Millennial generation, who say they do not belong to any organized faith. Among the roughly three-quarters of U.S. adults who do claim a religion, there has been no discernible drop in most measures of religious commitment. Indeed, by some conventional measures, religiously affiliated Americans are, on average, even more devout than they were a few years ago.

The 2014 Religious Landscape Study is a follow-up to an equally extensive survey on religion in America, conducted in 2007. An initial report on the findings from the 2014 study, released in May 2015, described the changing size and demographic characteristics of the nation’s major religious groups. This report focuses on Americans’ religious beliefs and practices and assesses how they have changed in recent years.

The share of U.S. adults who say they believe in God, while still remarkably high by comparison with other advanced industrial countries, has declined modestly, from approximately 92% to 89%, since Pew Research Center conducted its first Landscape Study in 2007.1 The share of Americans who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists has dropped more sharply, from 71% in 2007 to 63% in 2014. And the percentages who say they pray every day, attend religious services regularly and consider religion to be very important in their lives also have ticked down by small but statistically significant margins.

The falloff in traditional religious beliefs and practices coincides with changes in the religious composition of the U.S. public. A growing share of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, including some who self-identify as atheists or agnostics as well as many who describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” Altogether, the religiously unaffiliated (also called the “nones”) now account for 23% of the adult population, up from 16% in 2007.

Pew Research Center surveys consistently show that not all religious “nones” are nonbelievers. In fact, the majority of Americans without a religious affiliation say they believe in God. As a group, however, the “nones” are far less religiously observant than Americans who identify with a specific faith. And, as the “nones” have grown in size, they also have become even less observant than they were when the original Religious Landscape Study was conducted in 2007. The growth of the “nones” as a share of the population, coupled with their declining levels of religious observance, is tugging down the nation’s overall rates of religious belief and practice.

At the same time, the vast majority of Americans (77% of all adults) continue to identify with some religious faith. And this religiously affiliated population – comprising a wide variety of Protestants as well as Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and adherents of other faith traditions – is, on the whole, just as religiously committed today as when the study was first conducted in 2007. Fully two-thirds of religiously affiliated adults say they pray every day and that religion is very important to them, and roughly six-in-ten say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month; those numbers have changed little, if at all, in recent years. And nearly all religiously affiliated people in the survey (97%) continue to believe in God, though a declining share express this belief with absolute certainty (74% in 2014, down from 79% in 2007).1

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