A new survey shows American Christianity is declining steadily, with young Americans increasingly identifying as unaffiliated with any religious group.
The survey, conducted by Pew Research Center, follows additional studies over the past couple decades that have shown membership in Christian churches declining in the United States. The latest study also reflects past findings that millennials, those born in the last couple decades of the 20th century, are especially nonreligious and unlikely to attend church services regularly.
Using data compiled in 2018 and 2019, the survey found 65% of Americans identify as Christian, down 12 percentage points from 2009. Protestants declined from 51% to 43% as a percentage of the overall population, while Catholics dropped from 23% to 20%. Overall church attendance also dropped, with only a minority now attending church monthly or more often.
The percentage of Americans unaffiliated with a religious group increased from 17% to 26% over that same time span, with most unaffiliated Americans identifying as “nothing in particular.” Those considering themselves “nothing in particular” jumped from 12% to 17% over the past decade, while agnostics went from 3% to 5%, and atheists increased from 2% to 4%.
The numbers released by Pew show a clear generational gap in religiosity. Whereas 84% of the silent generation, those born between 1928 and 1945, identify as Christian and only 10% as unaffiliated, only 49% of millennials consider themselves Christian, while 40% call themselves unaffiliated.
Over the past decade, the number of millennials identifying as Christian has declined 16%, while the number calling themselves unaffiliated has jumped 13%. The silent generation’s religious identification remained virtually unchanged over the past decade. Generation X, which precedes the millennial generation, witnessed a decline of 8% among those identifying as Christian, half as large as the decline among millennials.
Where as 61% of the silent generation attends church monthly or more, only 35% of millennials do the same.
The new Pew survey consists of data collected from telephone surveys with 12,738 individuals in 2018 and 2019. Since 2009, Pew has conducted numerous telephone-based political surveys every year that also gather data on religiosity. In total, these surveys have involved interviews with almost 170,000 Americans.