Pew: “The Religious Landscape of the US”

New Pew study of religion in the US.

More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion – or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.

The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.

Some interesting points:

  • Islam has the highest percentage of young adults under 30; mainline Protestantism, the lowest.
  • Historically Black Protestant churches and Jehovah’s Witnesses have the highest percentage of women (60%), then Mormons (56%), then Catholics, Mainline Protestants, and Orthodox (54%), and Evangelicals (53%). Who has the men? Hindus (61%), unaffiliated (59%), Muslims (54%), Buddhists (53%), Jews (52%).
  • The “whitest” groups are Jews (95%) and Mainline Protestants (91%).
  • Among Christian groups, Catholics have the highest rate of cohabitation (7%); Mormons and Orthodox (3%) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (1%) have the lowest. Muslims and Hindus don’t even register.
  • Mormons (9%) and Muslims (6%) are most likely to have four or more children, compared with 4% of Catholics and 1% of Mainline Protestants.
  • 29% of Catholics are Hispanic (next–JWs at 24%).

Chapter two has detailed reports about changes in denominations.

Catholics lead the category of who has lost the most members.

Groups that have experienced a net loss from changes in affiliation include Baptists (net loss of 3.7 percentage points) and Methodists (2.1 percentage points). However, the group that has experienced the greatest net loss by far is the Catholic Church. Overall, 31.4% of U.S. adults say that they were raised Catholic. Today, however, only 23.9% of adults identify with the Catholic Church, a net loss of 7.5 percentage points.

How can this decline in the percentage of Catholics be reconciled with the findings from the General Social Surveys discussed in Chapter 1 that show that roughly the same proportion of the population is Catholic today as was Catholic in the early 1970s? Part of the answer is that the Catholic Church has also attracted a good number of converts. But the main answer is immigration. The many people who have left the Catholic Church over the years have been replaced, to a great extent, by the large number of Catholic immigrants coming to the U.S.

The “unaffiliated” group has experienced the largest changes.

Overall, 3.9% of the adult population reports being raised without any particular religious affiliation but later affiliating with a religious group. However, more than three times as many people (12.7% of the adult population overall) were raised in a particular faith but have since become unaffiliated with any religious group.

A similar dynamic is at work within Catholicism, but with very different results. Overall, 2.6% of the U.S. adult population has switched their affiliation to Catholic after being raised in another faith or in no faith at all. But nearly four times as many people (10.1% of the adult population overall) were raised in the Catholic Church but have since left for another faith or for no faith at all.

Hindus, Catholics and Jews are the groups with the lowest proportion of members who have switched affiliation to these respective faiths. Overall, nine-in-ten Hindus were raised Hindu, 89% of Catholics were raised Catholic and 85% of Jews were raised Jewish.

Who is able to hold onto their children the best?

Hinduism exhibits the highest overall retention rate, with more than eight-in-ten (84%) adults who were raised as Hindu still identifying themselves as Hindu. The Mormon, Orthodox and Jewish traditions all have retention rates of at least 70%, while the retention rate for Catholics is 68%.

As mentioned previously, the group that has exhibited the strongest growth as a result of changes in affiliation is the unaffiliated population. Nevertheless, the overall retention rate of the unaffiliated population is relatively low (46%) compared with other groups. This means that more than half (54%) of those who were not affiliated with any particular religion as a child now identify themselves as members of one religion or another.

Two of the religious groups with the lowest retention rates are Jehovah’s Witnesses and Buddhists. Only slightly more than a third (37%) of adults who were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses still identify themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Half of all of those who were raised as Buddhists (50%) are still Buddhists….

Of all of the Protestant families, Baptists, Adventists and Lutherans have the highest retention rates, at roughly 60% each. The Holiness, Anabaptist and Congregationalist families, by contrast, have much lower retention rates, below 40% each.

Among those raised Adventist, 23% changed to another Protestant denomination (10 became Evangelical, 6 became Mainline, 6 joined historically black Protestant churches), 7% joined a non-Protestant religion, and 10% stopped practicing.

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