Analysis of The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
Religion data geeks everywhere rejoiced this month when the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released its newest study of the American religious landscape. Pew made waves a few years ago when it published a sweeping report that pointed to the rise of the “nones,” the increasing numbers of American adults who have no religious connection. This year’s study updates Pew’s massive 2007 study, and gives us valuable trend information.
So what does Pew report? Well, for starters, the “nones” are still rising. Since 2007, 19 million Americans have joined the ranks of the nonreligious. 19 million! That’s 23% of adults, trending up from 16% in 2007. And, as before, the increase of nonreligious adults comes from the losses of traditional Catholic and Mainline Protestant faiths. Pew is pretty much the gold standard for this kind of data, but for what it’s worth the decline of religious affiliation is a trend so robust that it shows up in every other similar survey.
Younger generations continue to lead the bleed away from traditional religious practices, with about 35% of Millennials claiming no affiliation. But, and this is one of my favorite parts of the new study, every generation has seen an increase in the number of unaffiliated adults since 2007! Baby Boomer unaffiliateds, for example, have gone from 14 to 17% of their peers. Friends, the waters are still churning amidst this sea change in American religion, and there’s no sign of them slowing down.
The researchers at Pew thoughtfully included a breakdown just for Unitarian Universalists (there’s actually one for every faith tradition they track, but I’m still appreciative). Compared to eight years ago, we are getting younger and less wealthy. In self-identification, or the number of people who tell researchers they are UU, we are overall holding steady at 0.3% of the adult population which, given the increases in the US population, implies we’ve grown by 54,000 in the last few years to 735,000. However, keep in mind that we’re not seeing this growth in self-identification reflected in our congregational membership reports. Maybe someone should dig into that intriguing divergence…
Check out the Pew data for yourself! I’ve only made it through the summary so far, but the full report looks worth a read. Pew also says they are going to publish more detailed reports on religious affiliation soon (hopefully great stuff like this gem), and I can’t wait to see what insights emerge.
What else do you see in this research? Add your thoughts in the comments.
Carey McDonald is the UUA Director of Outreach, total data geek and trend-spotter.