The Washington Post is reporting on the survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center which found that the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians dropped nearly eight percentage points since 2007 – from 78 percent to 71 percent today.
By comparison, in 1990, 86 percent of Americans identified as Christians.
Meanwhile, those Americans who claim no affiliation with organized religion jumped seven percentage points, from 16 to 23 percent, in the same time period.
The declining numbers are seen across all demographics, says Alan Cooperman, director of religion research for Pew.
“It’s remarkably widespread. The country is becoming less religious as a whole, and it’s happening across the board,” Cooperman told the Post.
Catholic and Protestant churches have shrunk between three and five percentage points since 2007 with evangelicals seeing a less dramatic shrinkage of only one percent.
This means that there are now more religiously unaffiliated Americans (23%) than Catholics (21%) and mainline Protestants (15%).
Overall, there are three million fewer Catholics today than there were in 2007.
Researchers have found that most of these losses are due to “religious switching”, meaning that a person switches from one faith to another. For instance, 13 percent of Americans were raised Catholics but are no longer practicing compared with just two percent of Americans who converted to Catholicism.
“That means that there are more than six former Catholics for every convert to Catholicism,” said Greg Smith, associate director of research at Pew. “There’s no other group in the survey that has that ratio of loss due to religious switching.”
Smith believes that while the percentage of Catholics in the U.S. has remained relatively stable, we might be seeing the beginning of the decline of the Catholic share of the population.
Evangelical Protestants have not fared as badly because of their net positive retention rate. For every person who has left evangelical Protestantism, 1.2 have switched to an evangelical denomination.
When broken down by age groups, 85 percent of people born between 1928 and 1945 consider themselves to be Christians. Seventy-eight percent of baby boomers, those born from 1946 to 1964, identify as Christian. Of those born between 1965 and 1980 – known as Generation X – the number drops to 70 percent. Of older millennials (born 1981 to 1989), only 57 percent identify as Christian while 56 percent of younger millennials (born 1990 to 1996) claim affiliation with Christianity.
However, this doesn’t mean older Americans aren’t shirking religion because a further analysis of the numbers shows the exact opposite.
Among baby boomers, 17 percent identify as a religious “none,” which is up from 14 percent in 2007.
“There’s a continuing religious disaffiliation among older cohorts. That is really striking,” Smith said.
Ethnicity is also a factor with white Americans much more likely to say they have no religion (24%) compared to Hispanics (20%) and black Americans (18%).
So who are these people who claim to have no religious affiliation? And what do they believe?
The “nones,” or religiously unaffiliated, include atheists, agnostics and those who say they believe in “nothing in particular,” the Post reports.
Thirty-one percent of this group describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, which is up six points from 2007.
“What we’re seeing now is that the share of people who say religion is important to them is declining,” Smith said. “The religiously unaffiliated are not just growing, but as they grow, they are becoming more secular.”
He added: “I continue to be struck by the pace at which the unaffiliated are growing.”
The Pew survey was conducted between June and September of 2014.
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