The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. So says a Pew Research poll done in late 2012. It finds that one out of five Americans of all ages today is religiously unaffiliated, up five per cent over the previous five years. In the under-30 age bracket, the percentage is one out of three.
The number of Americans who answer “none” to questions about their religious affiliation now stands at 46 million, including 13 million who identify as atheists or agnostics, according to the researchers.
The rise in “none” is about the same regardless of gender, educational level, income, and geography. It reflects primarily a five per cent dropoff in religious affiliation among white Protestants. The percentage of unaffiliated among African-Americans also rose, but only by two per cent to a total of 15 per cent. Among Hispanics the rate held steady at about 16 per cent.
Young people are driving the trend. Each succeeding generation is less likely to form a religious affiliation than the last.
Along with the rise in nonaffiliation, the Pew research finds some evidence that reported religious belief in the U.S., while still far higher than in European countries, is in long-term decline.
The vast majority of the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion to belong to.
The evidence is consistent with the theory of a widespread backlash against the religious right wing. Religion, particularly Protestantism, has become identified with hostility to abortion, gay rights, and with right-wing politics generally. This has driven people away in droves. The percentage of white evangelicals has dropped two per cent over the five years, and is now less than the proportion who are unaffiliated with any religion.