A new survey offers fresh insight into this group of religiously unaffiliated Americans:
Only 60 percent of Americans who consider themselves religious are part of a congregation, compared to 70 percent a decade ago, according to Gallup. But the bigger factor, Gallup said, is the surge of religiously unaffiliated Americans — people who are agnostics, atheists or simply say they are not affiliated with a religious tradition. The rise of this group — sometimes referred to as “nones” because they answer “none” when asked about their faith (and, you know, it’s a play on words) — isn’t new. But the Gallup survey is part of a growing body of new research on this bloc (that includes a recent book by one of us, Ryan’s “The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going”).
Compared to the U.S. population overall, nonreligious Americans are younger and more Democratic-leaning. But the number of Americans who aren’t religious has surged in part because people in lots of demographic groups are disengaging from religion — many nones don’t fit that young, liberal stereotype. The average age of a none is 43 (so plenty are older than that). About one-third of nones (32 percent) are people of color. More than a quarter of nones voted for Trump in 2020. And about 70 percent don’t have a four-year college degree.
The decline over the last decade in the share of Black (-11 percentage points) and Hispanic adults (-10 points) who are Christians is very similar to the decline among white adults (-12 points), according to Pew. The number of college graduates leaving the faith (-13 points) is similar to those without degrees (-11 points). The decline in organized religion is indeed much bigger among Democrats (-17 points) than Republicans (-7 points) and among Millennials (-16 points) compared to Baby Boomers (-6 points), but the trend is very broad.
The growing diversity of nones explains a lot of dynamics we see in America today.
And this part jumped out at me:
It’s really two groups in particular that are declining: mainline Protestants (think Episcopalians or Methodists) and Catholics…
… People who leave Christianity often cite the politics of the Christian right turning them off. But some of the evidence here suggests that probably isn’t the only explanation. There is a general disengagement of Americans from organized religion — people who are religious no longer identifying as members of congregations. Republicans are becoming less religious, but they seem just fine voting for candidates who court the Christian right. And the people leaving Christianity aren’t usually members of conservative evangelical congregations in the first place.
So what else is going on? Well, nations with fairly high per capita GDPs (such as Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom) tend to have fairly low levels of religiosity. The U.S. has long been an outlier: a high-income, highly religious nation. But America may have always been destined to grow less religious.