Study: America Becoming Less Christian, More Secular

Sergio Moraes / REUTERS

A comprehensive survey of Americans has revealed that there are about 5 million fewer Christians across the United States than there were in 2007, and millions more who identify as atheist or agnostic, or who say they have no religion in particular.

The study, released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center, found that 7.8 percent fewer people describe themselves as Christians than when the survey was last conducted, seven years prior. But Christianity still dominates the landscape, with nearly 71 percent of Americans counting themselves as members of the religion.

Meanwhile, the percentage of those with no religious affiliation has risen to nearly 23 percent, from 16 percent.

The results come from phone interviews with more than 35,000 Americans in 2014, and provide a comprehensive and accurate representation of the population, with a very low margin of error, the report notes.

The rise in the unaffiliated, sometimes called religious "nones," is due in part to millennials. This age group, which includes many people who were too young to be counted when Pew last did the survey in 2007, forms the least religious generation in American history, with more than one-third, or 35 percent, saying they are religiously unaffiliated. For baby boomers, that figure is 17 percent.

But it's not just the young who are eschewing churches, synagogues and mosques. Since 2007, all age groups have become increasingly irreligious. Two percent more of those in the Silent Generation (people over the age of 70) are now unaffiliated, compared with 2007, while 3 percent and 4 percent more baby boomers and Generation Xers, respectively, now count themselves among the ranks of the unaffiliated.

The Catholic Church has fared worst of all the religious groups surveyed. Overall, there are 3.1 percent fewer Catholics now than in 2007. "Nearly one-third of American adults (31.7 percent) say they were raised Catholic," the report notes. "Among that group, fully 41 percent no longer identify with Catholicism. This means that 12.9 percent of American adults [more than 1 in 8] are former Catholics."

Meanwhile, the study found that there is now about the same percentage of Jews and Buddhists as in 2007, with a very slight rise in the portion of people identifying as Muslim or Hindu.

A majority of the unaffiliated say they identify with "nothing in particular." In fact, 15.8 percent of Americans now claim this. This doesn't necessarily mean that they don't believe in divine power or that they don't pray, but they do (as one might expect) tend to be less religiously observant and likely to go to a church or other similar facility, the report notes.

Another 3.1 percent of Americans specifically say they are atheist, while 4 percent identify as agnostic.