The religious profile of the United States is changing as Protestants and Catholics shrink in proportion to non-Christian religions and the religiously unaffiliated. Yet people still believe in God or a higher power at the same high rates. This is the word from the latest massive survey from the Pew Charitable Trusts involving phone interviews of 35,000 Americans.
What are the numbers? Christians are at 78.4% and non-Christian religions have hit an all-time high of 4.7%. Protestants have shrunk slightly to 51.3%, including 26.3% evangelicals, and Catholics have contracted even more, coming down to 23.9%.
The religious affiliation statistics are graphed at left, using imaged from the survey.
One of the fascinating approaches taken in the Pew Survey involved asking people how they are religiously affiliated not only now but also as a child. This enabled an estimate of growth or contraction in the major segments of the US religious scene. (See the graphical illustration at right.)
For example, 51.3% of Americans are currently affiliated as Protestants, but 53.9% said they were affiliated as a child. That contraction in breaks down as follows: 8.4% joined a Protestant church since childhood and 11.0% of Americans were Protestant-affiliated as children but since dropped out.
The rate of contraction is worse for Catholics. 2.6% of Americans became Catholic since they were children while four times as many, 10.1%, left the Catholic church since childhood.
The group experiencing the most significant growth is the religiously unaffiliated, with Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, and Jewish Americans remaining relatively constant.
Also at right is an indication of how Massachusetts (the home state of the Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion) compares with the rest of the United States–nothing too surpising there.