A new survey by the Pew Research Center has revealed that the share of U.S. adults identifying themselves as Christian has sharply declined over a seven-year period since 2007, although around 71 percent of the population still identifies themselves as Christian.
The extensive study shows that the change affects almost all of the major Christian denominations and crosses regions of the country, race and age. The drop in Christian affiliation was likewise more evident among young adults, although the trend was seen among Americans of all ages.
The decline is seen among blacks, whites, and Latinos as well. It likewise crossed educational differences with the trend being observed in individuals with high school educations as well as among those who have college degrees.
The Pew Research Center's second "U.S. Religious Landscape Study" is a follow-up to its first comprehensive study of religion in America, conducted in 2007. The results were based on telephone surveys of 35,000 people conducted in English and Spanish on both cellphones and landlines, from June 4-Sept. 30, 2014, and is estimated to cover 97 percent of the non-institutionalized U.S. adult population. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 0.6 percentage points.
As of 2014, nearly 71 percent of adults in the U.S. identified themselves as Christian, a drop of 5 million since a similar Pew survey was conducted in 2007. At the time, the percentage identifing themselves as Christians in the country was 78.4 percent.
In seven years, the percentage of American who describe themselves as agnostic, atheist or "nothing in particular" has increased, jumping from 16.1 percent to 22.8 percent.
The percentage of Americans who associate themselves with a non-Christian faith also increased, rising from 4.7 percent to 5.9 percent over the same period. The Pew report notes growth has been especially great among Muslims and Hindus, albeit from a very low base.
The drop has been affected partly by generational change as the relatively non-Christian millennials became adults and replace adults identifying themsleves mostly as Christian. Many former Christians have also joined the growing ranks of the religiously unaffiliated that include the likes of atheists and agnostics.
"One of the most important factors in the declining share of Christians and the growth of the 'nones' is generational replacement," Pew reported. "As the millennial generation enters adulthood, its members display much lower levels of religious affiliation, including less connection with Christian churches, than older generations."
Although the report did not provide an explanation behind the decline of the Christian population, low levels of Christian affiliation among certain groups hint at possible reasons.
"The low levels of Christian affiliation among the young, well-educated and affluent are consistent with prevailing theories for the rise of the unaffiliated, like the politicization of religion by American conservatives, a broader disengagement from all traditional institutions and labels, the combination of delayed and interreligious marriage, and economic development," The New York Times reported.
Pew researchers note the rise in intermarriage appears to be linked with the growth of the religiously unaffiliated population. "Nearly one-in-five people surveyed who got married since 2010 are either religiously unaffiliated respondents who married a Christian spouse or Christians who married an unaffiliated spouse. By contrast, just 5 percent of people who got married before 1960 fit this profile."
The U.S. remains home to more Christians than any other country in the world, the report notes, and a majority of Americans identify themselves as Christian - roughly seven-in-ten identify with some branch of the Christian faith.
Photo: Harley Pebley | Flickr