The portion of Americans with no religious affiliation is rising significantly, in tandem with a sharp drop in the percentage that identifies as Christians, according to new data from the Pew Research Center.
Based on telephone surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019, Pew said Thursday that 65 percent of American adults now describe themselves as Christian, down from 77 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, the portion that describes their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” now stands at 26 percent, up from 17 percent in 2009.
Both Protestant and Roman Catholic ranks are losing population share, according to Pew. It said 43 percent of U.S. adults identify as Protestants, down from 51 percent in 2009, while 20 percent are Catholic, down from 23 percent in 2009.
Pew says all categories of the religiously unaffiliated population — often referred to as the “nones” grew in magnitude. Self-described atheists now account for 4 percent of U.S. adults, up from 2 percent in 2009; agnostics account for 5 percent, up from 3 percent a decade ago; and 17 percent of Americans now describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” up from 12 percent in 2009.
The report comes at a challenging time for many major denominations in the U.S. The two largest — the Catholic church and the Southern Baptist Convention — are beset by clergy sex-abuse scandals. The United Methodist Church, the largest mainline Protestant denomination, faces a possible split over differences on the inclusion of LGBTQ people.
The Pew report found a steady decline in the rates of attendance at religious services.
Over the last decade, the share of Americans who say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month dropped by 7 percentage points, while the share who say they attend religious services less often — if at all — rose by the same degree.
In 2009, regular attenders — those who attend religious services at least once a month — outnumbered those who attend services only occasionally or not at all by a 52-to-47 percent margin. Now, more Americans say they attend religious services a few times a year or less (54 percent) than say they attend at least monthly (45 percent).
Pew’s data showed a wide age gap in terms of religion affiliation — three-quarters of baby boomers described themselves as Christian, compared to 49 percent of millennials.