With large numbers of Americans leaving Christianity to join the growing ranks of US adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular, a new PEW Research Centre analysis says that the new trend would reshape the US religious landscape.
Depending on the continuous religious switching, the PEW Centre said that its projections showed Christians of all ages shrinking from 64 per cent to between a little more than half (54 per cent) and just above one-third (35 per cent) of all Americans by 2070. Over that same period, “nones” would rise from the current 30 per cent to somewhere between 34 per cent and 52 per cent of the U.S. Population, it said.
In the report, the Centre said that about 64% of Americans, including children, were Christian in 2020. People, who are religiously unaffiliated, sometimes called religious “nones” accounted for 30% of the U.S. population. Adherents of all other religions – including Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists – totalled about 6%.
RELIGIOUS IDENTITY; SWITICHING RATES
The study said that switching rates were based on patterns observed in recent decades, through 2019. For example, the authors said that they estimated that 31 per cent of people raised Christian become unaffiliated between ages 15 to 29, the tumultuous period in which religious switching is concentrated. An additional 7 per cent of people raised Christian become unaffiliated later in life, after the age of 30.
The rates of religious switching in adulthood appear to have a far greater impact on the overall religious composition of the United States than other factors that can drive changes in affiliation over time, such as fertility rates and intergenerational transmission (i.e., how many parents pass their religion to their children), the study said.
RELIGIOUS IDENTITY; NONES
The study revealed that U.S. ‘nones’ will approach majority by 2070 if recent switching trends continue
It said that people of non-Christian religions would grow to represent 12%-13% of the population – double their present share.
RELIGIOUS IDENTITY; REVIVAL
It is possible that events outside the study’s model – such as war, economic depression, climate crisis, changing immigration patterns or religious innovations – could reverse current religious switching trends, leading to a revival of Christianity in the United States. But there are no current switching patterns in the U.S. that can be factored into the mathematical models to project such a result.
RELIGIOUS IDENTITY; SCENARIO
The report comes up with four scenarios in religious switching rates. They are as follows;
Scenario 1: Steady switching – Christians would lose their majority but would still be the largest U.S. religious group in 2070
Switching assumption: Switching into and out of Christianity, other religions and the religiously unaffiliated category (“nones”) continue among young Americans (ages 15 to 29) at the same rates as in recent years. Most significantly, each new generation sees 31% of people who were raised Christian become religiously unaffiliated by the time they reach 30, while 21% of those who grew up with no religion become Christian.
Outcome: If switching among young Americans continued at recent rates, Christians would decline as a share of the population by a few percentage points per decade, dipping below 50% by 2060. In 2070, 46% of Americans would identify as Christian, making Christianity a plurality – the most common religious identity – but no longer a majority. In this scenario, the share of “nones” would not climb above 41% by 2070.
Scenario 2: Rising disaffiliation with limits – ‘nones’ would be the largest group in 2070 but not a majority
Switching assumption: Continuing a recent pattern, switching out of Christianity becomes more common among young Americans as each generation sees a progressively larger share of Christians leave religion by the age of 30. However, brakes are applied to keep Christian retention (the share of people rose as Christians who remain Christian) from falling below about 50%.3 At the same time, switching into Christianity becomes less and less common, also continuing recent trends.
Outcome: If the pace of switching before the age of 30 were to speed up initially but then hold steady, Christians would lose their majority status by 2050, when they would be 47% of the U.S. population (versus 42% for the unaffiliated). In 2070, “nones” would constitute a plurality of 48%, and Christians would account for 39% of Americans.
Scenario 3: Rising disaffiliation without limits – ‘nones’ would form a slim majority in 2070
Switching assumption: The share of Christians who disaffiliate by the time they reach 30 continues to rise with each successive generation, and rates of disaffiliation are allowed to continue rising even after Christian retention drops below 50% (i.e., no limit is imposed). As in Scenario 2, switching into Christianity among young Americans becomes less and less common.
Outcome: If the pace of switching before the age of 30 were to speed up throughout the projection period without any brakes, Christians would no longer be a majority by 2045. By 2055, the unaffiliated would make up the largest group (46%), ahead of Christians (43%). In 2070, 52% of Americans would be unaffiliated, while a little more than a third (35%) would be Christian.
Scenario 4: No switching – Christians would retain their majority through 2070
Switching assumption: This scenario imagines no person in America has changed or will change their religion after 2020. However, even in that hypothetical situation, the religious makeup of the U.S. population would continue to shift gradually, primarily because of Christians being older than other groups, on average, and the unaffiliated being younger, with a larger share of their population of childbearing age.
Outcome: If switching had stopped altogether in 2020, the share of Christians would still decline by 10 percentage points over 50 years, reaching 54% in 2070. The unaffiliated would remain a substantial minority, at 34%.