A new landmark study finds that less than half of white Americans are claiming to be Christians. That’s a steep decline as 40 years ago, 80% of white Americans said they were Christian.
The study, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), included over 101,000 Americans and found a decline of white Christians and white Protestants.
According to the report, in 1976 a majority of the country, more than 8 out of 10 people, claimed they were white and Christian, a majority of them calling themselves “Protestants.” According to the study, now only 43 percent of white Americans are Christian, and just 30% are white Protestants.
Reportedly, some states have more white Christians than others. For instance, in the Dakotas, Iowa, Kentucky and West Virginia, 60% said they were white Christians; in California and Hawaii, less than 25% claimed the same. In Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and Florida, 40% of residents say they are white Christians, but the number reduces to less than 40% in New York, Maryland and New Jersey.
The abrupt decline is said to be fueled by rising ethnic diversity, with fewer people claiming to be “white.” There is also a decline in those wanting to be affiliated with any religious group. The study also found that today’s white Christians are older than those who claim to belong to other religious faiths, meaning the decline is likely to continue.
The PRRI study, “America’s Changing Religious Identity,” issued the report based on findings from PRRI’s 2016 American Values Atlas, “the single largest survey of American religious and denominational identity ever conducted, based on interviews with more than 101,000 Americans from all 50 states conducted across 2016.”
Included in the report is detailed information about religious affiliation, denominational ties, political affiliation, and other demographic characteristics.
It found that around 60% of white Catholics and Protestants are over the age of 50. By comparison, Mormon, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist Americans are younger, on average, than Christians.
Millennials are more likely to identify as unaffiliated with any religious group, with over 30% of those surveyed between the ages of 18 and 29 saying they don’t belong to a specific religion. Under one-quarter of millennials identify as both white and Christian.
Yet with older generations, those over 65, nearly 60% say they are white Christians.
The shift translates into politics, as well. Only 29% of those who considered themselves Democrats said they are white Christians. Ten-years ago, that demographic was claimed by about half of the members of the Party.
Within the Republican Party, white Christians remain dominant. Nearly 75% of self-identified Republicans are white Christians, while 35% identify as evangelical Protestants.
Religious preferences differ more substantially between ethnic groups. Two-thirds of black Americans identify as Protestants, while nearly half, 48%, of Hispanics are Catholic. Only one in five black Americans and Hispanics claim no religious affiliation, according to the report.
Among Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, nearly the same number call themselves Hindu as Protestant or Catholic, and many identify as Muslim or Buddhist. Thirty percent of all Asian Pacific Islanders are unaffiliated with a religion.
The number of Americans who identify as religiously unaffiliated has grown sharply over the course of 40 years. In 1976, only 7% of Americans claimed to be religiously unaffiliated. In 2016, 24 percent of Americans claim the status. Of those claiming to be unaffiliated, 43% say they are liberal while 21% say they are conservative.
Voters claiming to be unaffiliated with religion make up the majority of voters in 20 states, nine of which — Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Arizona, Michigan, Kansas and Florida — voted for President Trump last year.
More findings from the report:
- Non-Christian religious groups are growing, but they still represent less than one in ten Americans combined. Jews constitute 2% of all Americans while Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus each constitute only 1% of the public. All other non-Christian religions constitute an additional 1%.
- There are now 20 states in which no religious group comprises a greater share of residents than the religiously unaffiliated. These states tend to be more concentrated in the western U.S., although they include a few New England states, as well. More than four in ten (41%) residents of Vermont and approximately one-third of Americans in Oregon (36%), Washington (35%), Hawaii (34%), Colorado (33%), and New Hampshire (33%) are religiously unaffiliated.
- No state is less religiously diverse than Mississippi. The state is heavily Protestant and dominated by a single denomination: Baptist. Six in ten (60%) Protestants in Mississippi are Baptist. No state has a greater degree of religious diversity than New York.
- The cultural center of the Catholic Church is shifting south. The Northeast is no longer the epicenter of American Catholicism—although at 41% Catholic, Rhode Island remains the most Catholic state in the country. Immigration from predominantly Catholic countries in Latin America means new Catholic populations are settling in the Southwest. In 1972, roughly seven in ten Catholics lived in either the Northeast (41%) or the Midwest (28%). Only about one-third of Catholics lived in the South (13%) or West (18%). Today, a majority of Catholics now reside in the South (29%) or West (25%). Currently, only about one-quarter (26%) of the U.S. Catholic population lives in the Northeast, and 20% live in the Midwest.
- Jews, Hindus, and Unitarian-Universalists stand out as the most educated groups in the American religious landscape. More than one-third of Jews (34%), Hindus (38%), and Unitarian-Universalists (43%) hold post-graduate degrees. Notably, Muslims are significantly more likely than white evangelical Protestants to have at least a four-year college degree (33% vs. 25%, respectively).
- Nearly half of LGBT Americans are religiously unaffiliated. Nearly half (46%) of Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are religiously unaffiliated. This is roughly twice the number of Americans overall (24%) who are religiously unaffiliated.
- White Christians have become a minority in the Democratic Party. Fewer than one in three (29%) Democrats today are white Christian, compared to half (50%) one decade earlier. Only 14% of young Democrats (age 18 to 29) identify as white Christian. Forty percent identify as religiously unaffiliated.
- White evangelical Protestants remain the dominant religious force in the GOP. More than one-third (35%) of all Republicans identify as white evangelical Protestant, a proportion that has remained roughly stable over the past decade. Roughly three-quarters (73%) of Republicans belong to a white Christian religious group.
In April, a report by the Pew Research Center stated that globally, by 2035, babies born to Muslim mothers will outnumber babies born to Christian mothers.
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