Introduction: Religion in the United States
Surveys have for many years shown that the United States has a Christian majority (see GSS data below). A 2010 Report on the global Christian population gave the total number of US Christians as 246,780,000, representing 79.5% of the total US population and 11.3% of all Christians worldwide. (Source: Pew Forum).
A 2012 Pew Forum survey indicated that from 2007 to 2012:
- The number of US adults who identify as 'Atheist' increased by 50% to 2.4% of the total US population.
- The number of persons who identify as 'Protestant' decreased by 5% to 48% and 'Catholic' by 1% to 22%.
A later survey published in 2015 indicated that from 2007 to 2014:
- The number of US adults who identify as 'Atheist' increased to 3.1%, a near doubling in 7 years.
- The number of persons who identify as 'Protestant' decreased by 4.8% to 46.5% and 'Catholic' by 3.1% to 20.8%.
The 2014 Religious Landscape study gave the following breakdown of religious affiliation:
The study also found that:
- 36% attend religious services at least weekly.
- 42% no longer identify with their childhood religion.
- 55% believe in both Heaven and Hell, but 25% believe in neither.
US General Social Survey (GSS)
Data on religious affiliation from the GSS is available. A report comparing religious affiliation in 1991 and 2012 is available for download.
The GSS data indicates that, over the period 1972 to 2012:
- The percentage of persons who identify as 'Protestant' decreased from 62.5% to 50.5%1, and for those who are 'Catholic' from 27.4% to 24.2%.
- Persons classified as having 'No Religion' increased from 5.1% to 19.7%.2
- The Jewish population decreased from 3% to 1.5%.
These figures are based on an average sample size of 2,000 persons with a margin of error around ±2%.
1 The GSS Subdivides 'Protestant' into 'Conservative' (e.g. Baptist, Pentecostal, 'Christian', Church of God in Christ) and 'Mainline' (e.g. Episcopal, Methodist,
2 The overall figure of 19.7% for 2012 includes:
- 32% of 18-24 year olds, representing the highest percentage in all age groups. By contrast, only 7.1% of those aged 75 and over were religiously unaffiliated.
- 16.4% of Women and 23.6% of Men, with the gap between the two widening since the 1990 survey results.
- 20.7% of White persons, 16.8% of African Americans and 14.1% of Mexican Americans.
Note: Figures are taken from the Association of Religion Data Archives: ARDA
Results from the 2012 GSS survey indicate:
- 3.1% of Americans say that they do not believe in God, in relative terms, this represents an increase of over 100% since 1988.
- 59.1% of Americans believe in God, with no doubts, a fall of 4.8% over the period 1991-2012.
Views of the Bible in the USA
When asked for their views on the Bible from a list of three alternatives:
- 33.7% said: 'The Bible is the actual Word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.'
- 47.2% said: 'The Bible is the inspired Word of God, but is not to be taken literally, word for word.'
- 16.7% said: 'The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by men.'
Source: US GSS 2006
Weighted Base: 2,949.
Other GSS Responses
- When asked if Abortion should be allowed for any reason, 39.4% of those surveyed said 'Yes' (GSS 2006, Weighted base: 1,930).
- 24.6% of Americans think the current divorce laws should be made easier against 51.9% who think they should be made more difficult (GSS 2006, Weighted base: 1,906).
- Nearly 50% of Americans in 2014 believe homosexual sexual relations are not wrong:
US attendance at Religious Services
GSS data for responses to the question 'How often do you attend religious services?'
Note: average number of persons surveyed ~ 2,000, with 4,492 surveyed in 2006.
A later survey conducted by World Values over the period 2010-2014 indicated that 30.2% of the American population either never, or practically never attend religious services. This compares to just 12% over the period 1981-84. However, at least a third of the American population attend once a week or more.
Religious Affiliation by group
- The Pew Forum survey classifies Protestants into three separate traditions, defining 'tradition' as "...a set of denominations and congregations with similar beliefs, practices and origins."
- In 2014, 22.8% of the US population are not affiliated with any religion. They are divided as follows: 'Atheist': 3.1%, 'Agnostic': 4.0% and 'No Particular Religion': 15.8%
- Of the 1.6% who in 2007 who self identify as 'Atheist', 70% are Male.
- The overall Christian population of the USA has fallen from 78.4% to 70.6% over the seven year period.
African-American Religious Preferences
- The 59% figure for historically black Protestant churches breaks down as: 40% Baptist, 5% Methodist, 6% Pentecostal, 8% Other.
- Less than 0.5% of African-Americans are: Atheist, Buddhist, Jewish, Mormon or Orthodox. Jehovah's Witness and Islam have 1% each.
- Full data is available on the Pew Forum web site.
Religious Affiliation by Age
The survey also looked at the numbers of people who left the religion they were affiliated to in childhood. The results included:
- 23% who said they did not believe in God or the teachings of that religion.
- 16% who said they disliked organised religion or that religion caused problems.
- 8% said that it went against science and logic.