Religion is apparently weakening in America. A new report from the Pew Research Center shows that the percentage of Americans who say they believe in God, pray daily and attend church regularly is declining.
Among the findings:
- The share of Americans who say they are "absolutely certain" that God exists has dropped 8 percentage points, from 71 percent to 63 percent, since 2007, when the last comparable study was made.
- The percentage of adults who describe themselves as "religiously affiliated" has shrunk 6 points since 2007, from 83 percent to 77 percent.
- The shares of the U.S. adult population who consider religion "very important" to them, pray daily and attend services at least once a month have declined between 3 and 4 percentage points over the past eight years.
The shift is small but statistically significant, according to the authors, given that the changes have taken place in a relatively short period of time, and the survey sample is large enough (about 35,000 U.S. adults) to be considered reliable.
Skepticism about religion is especially evident among young people. The Pew study found that barely a quarter of "millennials" (born between 1981 and 1996) attend church services on a weekly basis, compared with more than half of U.S. adults born before 1946. Only about 4 in 10 millennials say religion is important in their lives, compared with more than half of those who are older, including two-thirds of those born before 1946.
The Pew researchers acknowledge that some young people may become more religious as they grow older, but their data suggest that the generational differences in religiosity could well endure. "The oldest Millennials, now in their late 20s and early 30s, are generally less observant than they were seven years ago," the authors write. "If these trends continue American society is likely to grow less religious even if those who are adults today maintain their current levels of religious commitment."
The weakening of religious beliefs and practices has clear political overtones. The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated people is largely benefiting Democrats, for whom "nones" are now the single largest religious constituency. Evangelicals, meanwhile, constitute the largest religious group in the Republican Party, and the share of evangelicals who identify with the Republicans has grown since 2007.
Indeed, the Pew report suggests that polarization along religious lines may be increasing in the United States. While the percentage of Americans who say they don't affiliate with any religious tradition is growing, those people who still identify with a religion are becoming even more devout. A growing share of the "religiously affiliated" say they regularly read scripture, participate in prayer groups and share their faith with others.