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Religion in America: Shifts in Affiliation and Decline of Traditional Christianity

Religion Percentage in America

Christianity may be losing ground in the United States, but it is not disappearing entirely. The country is divided into religious groups based on their preference and affiliation, with Catholics and Protestants leading the pack in most states.

About 7% identify with a non-Christian religion, including Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Unitarian Universalists. These figures have remained stable over the past few years.

Catholics

The percentage of Catholics has remained relatively stable over the past decade. However, the share of Americans who are “nones” has grown significantly in every major geographic region.

The religiously unaffiliated include atheists, agnostics, and those who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. These groups are increasingly diverse by class, race, and age.

America’s religious geography has been transformed over the last decade, due to changes in religious switching and Hispanic immigration. The number of Catholics has fallen in the South, but has risen in the Midwest and West. In the Northeast, there has been a slight increase in the number of Christians, including white evangelical Protestants and mainline Protestants. However, the number of Jews and Hindus has remained stable. There has also been a modest decline in the number of Mormons.

Protestants

A quarter of Americans say they follow Protestant religions, a steep decline from 40 years ago when two-thirds said they were Protestant. This trend is especially pronounced among young Americans ages 18-29. In 2021, a third of this age group was religiously unaffiliated, and it is similar for those ages 30-49.

The percentage of Americans with no religious identity has grown in recent years, and this trend is most pronounced in states located at the northern corners of the country, plus Hawaii. These “nones” tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats.

The remaining 4% of Americans identify with a non-Christian religion, such as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or some other world faith tradition. These individuals are largely concentrated in Eastern and Western states, with their numbers ranging from a majority in Oregon, Vermont, and New Hampshire to less than a fifth in Mississippi.

Mormons

Religious affiliations in the United States are changing at a rapid pace. Americans are dropping out of organized religion at an alarming rate, and those who remain say that they don’t attend services often or at all. This trend could have serious political implications. Moreover, the majority of Democrats come from nonreligious households, and the Democratic Party needs to rethink its strategy in the face of these new dynamics.

The religiosity of American adults varies greatly by state and region, reflecting a combination of historical factors. For example, the high percentage of Catholics in states like Utah and Idaho reflects historic patterns of immigration to those states. The same is true for the relatively high percentage of Protestants in the South. Nevertheless, the number of unaffiliated Americans is rising rapidly in some states.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and not part of a Trinity. They also teach that human institutions, including government and organized religion, are inherently corrupt and reject political activities such as voting, military service and oaths of any kind. They also believe that blood transfusions are unclean and refuse to take blood from another person.

Jehovah’s Witnesses tend to be less educated than other Christian groups, with a solid majority of adult Witnesses having no more than a high school diploma. They also have a lower retention rate than other groups; 66 percent of adults who were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses no longer identify with the group. They also have a higher incidence of death compared to other groups.

Unaffiliated

The proportion of Americans who are unaffiliated has risen over the past few years. This is mainly due to generational replacement, as young adults are replacing older Americans in the religious landscape. A third of adults under 30 have no religion, compared with one-in-ten among those 65 and over.

The trend toward disaffiliation is influenced by many factors, including family structure and religious commitments. People raised in two-parent households tend to have more robust religious participation, while those in single-parent homes are less likely to report being religious.

The old narrative about the unaffiliated focuses on atheists and agnostics, but that misses a number of important trends. There is also an increasing share of Americans who choose other forms of non-religious affiliation or switch between different religious traditions.

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