Poll: Religiously Unaffiliated Expand, Now Second-Largest Group In US

WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — The number of Christians in the U.S. continues to decline sharply across all regions and demographic groups, while the number of those describing themselves as religiously unaffiliated – atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has spiked to nearly one-quarter of the U.S. population.

The data reflects the first time that those who do not identify with any religion have become the second-largest group in the United States – although these religious “nones” still lag far behind the U.S. Christian population.

A new survey from the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life finds that atheists, agnostics, and those claiming “nothing in particular” now compose 22.8 percent of the U.S. population. While America is still home to more Christians than any other country in the world, the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any faith – labeled by some as the religious “nones” – jumped nearly 7 percentage points in as many years.

Although the sharp decline in Christian affiliation is most pronounced among young U.S. adults, the same trend is occurring among whites, blacks, Latinos, men, women, college graduates and those with only a high school education.

Declines in Christianity have been driven primarily by a large drop in mainline Protestants and Catholics. However, American Christians have become increasingly more diverse, with racial and ethnic minorities now making up 41 percent of Catholics (up from 35 percent in 2007), one-quarter of evangelical Protestants (up from 19 percent) and 14 percent of mainline Protestants.

The new major survey of 35,000 Americans from the Pew Research Center finds that the percentage of U.S. adults who describe themselves as Christian has declined by nearly eight percentage points in the past seven years – from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014. During that same period religiously unaffiliated Americans increased from 16.1 percent to 22.8 percent.

The share of U.S. adults who identify with non-Christian religions has increased from 2007, with significant growth occurring among Muslims and Hindus.

Nearly four-in-ten (39 percent) of Americans who have gotten married since 2010 report they are in a religiously mixed marriage, a 20 percent increase from 1960. And while many U.S. religious groups are aging, the religiously unaffiliated are growing considerably among young American adults – and will continue to attract an increasing amount of younger Americans.

“As a rising cohort of highly unaffiliated Millennials reaches adulthood, the median age of unaffiliated adults has dropped to 36, down from 38 in 2007 and far lower than the general (adult) population’s median age of 46.4,” according to Pew. “By contrast, the median age of mainline Protestant adults in the new survey is 52 (up from 50 in 2007), and the median age of Catholic adults is 49 (up from 45 seven years earlier).”

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