May 12, 2015

5 key findings about the changing U.S. religious landscape

Pew Research Center’s new Religious Landscape Study, the first since our 2007 study, draws on a massive sample size of more than 35,000 Americans to offer a detailed look at the current religious composition of U.S. adults. The size of the sample enables us to explore relatively small religious groups (including specific Christian denominations) as well as state- and metropolitan area-level data.

In addition to the full report, the findings of the study can be explored at a new interactive website. Here are a few of the key findings:

1U.S. Religious LandscapeChristians are declining, both as a share of the U.S. population and in total number. In 2007, 78.4% of U.S. adults identified with Christian groups, such as Protestants, Catholics, Mormons and others; seven years later, that percentage has fallen to 70.6%. Accounting for overall population growth in that period, that means there are roughly 173 million Christian adults in the U.S. today, down from about 178 million in 2007.

2Within Christianity, the biggest declines have been in the mainline Protestant tradition and among Catholics. Mainline Protestants represented 14.7% of U.S. adults in 2014, down from 18.1% in 2007, while the Catholic share of the population fell to 20.8% from 23.9% over the same period. By comparison, evangelical Protestants have been more stable, declining only about 1 percentage point between 2007 and 2014 (from 26.3% to 25.4%).

3The decline of Christians in the U.S. has corresponded with the continued rise in the share of Americans with no religious affiliation (religious “nones”). People who self-identify as atheists or agnostics (about 7% of all U.S. adults), as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular,” now account for a combined 22.8% of U.S. adults – up from 16.1% in 2007. The growth of the “nones” has been powered in part by religious switching. Nearly one-in-five U.S. adults (18%) were raised as Christians or members of some other religion, but now say they have no religious affiliation.

4There are clear differences between certain demographic groups when it comes to religious affiliation. For example, younger adults are far more likely than older Americans to identify as religious “nones,” and men are more likely than women to be religiously unaffiliated. But despite these differences, the major trends seen in American religion since 2007 – the decline of Christians and rise of the “nones” – have occurred in some form across many demographic groups, including men and women, older and younger Americans, and people with different levels of education and different races and ethnicities.

5The share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths, such as Islam and Hinduism, has grown modestly in recent years, from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014. Muslims now account for 0.9% of the U.S. adult population (up from 0.4% in the 2007 Landscape Study), while Hindus make up 0.7% of U.S. adults (up from 0.4% in 2007).

Topics: Religion and Society, Religious Affiliation, Religious Beliefs and Practices, Catholics and Catholicism, Christians and Christianity, Muslim Americans, Religiously Unaffiliated, Hindus and Hinduism

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Jonathan2 years ago

    I think it would be very interesting to do some analysis of how Atheists and Agnostics compare to the rest of the religiously unaffiliated. If you go look at the data presented comparing Atheists and Agnostics to religiously unaffiliated as a whole, you see that they are notably wealthier and better educated than the rest of the religiously unaffiliated as well as all the religious in general. In fact it looks like they would come in third slightly behind Jews and Hindus in educational attainment and income distribution.

    Intellectually coming to the conclusion that you have sufficiently strong doubts to declare a lack of belief in god is very different from deciding that you believe in god/s but don’t like any of the mainstream religions enough to be affiliated with them. I think in future research the atheists and agnostics should be analyzed as a separate group from the theistic religiously unaffiliated.

    1. jim2 years ago

      Atheists do have a belief system.

  2. Jonathan2 years ago

    I would very much like to see the statistics in the new interactive website broken down among the non-religious group. I want to know how both atheists and agnostics compare to the rest of the religiously unaffiliated, especially in the areas of gender, educational attainment, and income. The numbers for atheists and agnostics are obviously bigger than many of the groups that were broken out in that report and so their data as individual groups would be no less statistically significant than other data that is displayed.

    1. Michael Lipka2 years ago


      Thanks for your comment. That data is shown on our website. At the bottom of each chart, you can click “compare [variable] by religious group.” For example, go to this page:….

      At the bottom of the gender composition chart, click “compare gender by religious group,” and it will display the data for atheists compared with agnostics and those who say their religion is “nothing in particular.” In that case, atheists are 68% men, agnostics are 62% men and those saying “nothing in particular” are 54% men.

      I hope this helps.

      Michael Lipka

  3. Frank2 years ago


    Thanks for the useful survey.

    I think one reason people are leaving Christianity that others have not mentioned is because people are realizing that Jesus never existed.

    They are going to websites like:

    The cat is out of the bag.

    Older religions (called Pagan) focused on God and morality but Christianity destroyed them (See Crimes of Christianity, by Foote). They need to be revived for people to have a chance at a spirituality devoid of the fraud, violence and criminality of the Abrahamic faiths.

    1. Emma2 years ago

      Actually, Jesus was a real person. God on the other hand, no. I am Pagan. Wiccan, to be excact, but I know that Jesus was a real person. He may not have done all the crap they say he did (total bs inall honesty), but he was a real person.

      1. Jonathan2 years ago

        The case for the historicity of Jesus is surprisingly bad. If you’re not a Christian, and you doubt the truth of the gospel stories, then there is almost no other good evidence that Jesus was a real person. The epistles say almost nothing about him, and some suggest Jesus is an angelic type figure, especially Hebrews and Colossians and to a lesser degree Ephesians. Josephus is the only historian living within 100 years of Jesus’ death who mentions Jesus, and there is a universal agreement among scholars that the Testimonium Flavianum in Josephus is either a partial or complete forgery – take your pick and don’t forget that the oldest manuscripts of it come from after the year 1000. I think that most non-Christians who are aware of the sophisticated arguments and detailed analysis of the historical reliability of the gospels from modern critical biblical scholars will conclude that the gospels are very close to, if not entirely fiction, although this knowledge is not widespread. Even if you think Jesus was a real person, there is almost nothing that can be said about the historical Jesus with anything resembling certainty. For further reading on the topic I recommend Gospel Fictions by Helms, Liberating the Gospels by Spong, The Power of Parable by Crossan, and The Christ Myth Theory and It’s Problems by Price. Even if you are a Christian and don’t buy the authors’ conclusions the information they contain is extremely interesting and likely a major eye opener.

    2. jim2 years ago

      Jonathan, the truth lies when you and I take our last breath. One of us is right. If I’m wrong as a Christian, I’m o.k with that. If your wrong, ?????????

      1. alexis wilson2 years ago

        I hate this argument… If I (or Jonathan) are wrong and you’re right then yes, I’m screwed. If we are both wrong then both of us are screwed… what if Islam is right? hinduism? the religion of ancient Greece? etc… then you will end up suffering for eternity like the rest of us.

  4. Tony Rush2 years ago

    Go ahead and turn away from God. Just remember when you decided to do that. When God turns away from you, you’ll regret it!

  5. Leonildo Silveira Campos2 years ago

    I would like to receive information about the numbers of growth Jeovah ‘s Witnesses since 1950 in Latin America.
    Dr. Leonildo Silveira Campos
    Mackenzie Presbiterian University
    São Paulo Brazil

  6. RUTH YOUNG2 years ago

    Dear Mr. Lipka, June 15, 2015

    I hope Pew might consider surveying Americans as to whether the Resurrection or the Apocalypse is imminent. I have asked Christians informally in face-to-face encounters over the last 3 to 4 months. I gauge 75% to 87% of Christians believe it is upon us. I used no formal research gathering technique. Just shooting the breeze.


    Ruth F. Young
    941 365-9039
    Sarasota, Florida 34237

    1. Michael Lipka2 years ago


      Thanks for your comment and your interest in our research. In 2010, we asked U.S. Christians for their views on the return of Christ. Those findings can be seen here:…

      I hope this helps answer your question, and thanks again.

      Michael Lipka

  7. Barry2 years ago

    I don’t believe there is a God “out there or up there” Yet, there is a divine creative principle that seems to be expressed in the evolving universe. Leave a cloud of hydrogen atoms alone they will eventually join together to create giraffes, roses, oboe players and such. Whatever it is that does that seems to love things coming together through some form of attraction (love?) to create new, more complex and more novel things that are greater than the sum of their parts. We are that. I do not believe there is a God that will come down and save us and Jesus is not coming back….yet I deeply believe that there is a divine universal creative potential of life and love within us that calls us to transcend the experience of separateness and the fears and suffering it generates by spiritually awakening to our oneness with it , with each other and all creation. That is how God will answer the prayers of humankind.

  8. Bonnie2 years ago

    How much did the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic church have to do with driving Catholics away from Catholicism and running to other faiths to practice a religion?

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      Not much. Other religions have had sex scandals too. As have school teachers and camp.counselors. Predators tend to seek out jobs where they have access to their prey (children ).

  9. Anthony Aguilar2 years ago

    Gosh it was very hard to finish reading this article. I get it you were groveling about the state of the church.I’m sure you lost more than half of your readers. You see heaven is not for everybody but hell takes anybody.

    1. Kent Forrest2 years ago

      “As a child, my classmates often told me that since I do not believe in God
      I was going to go to Hell. Little did they know –
      I do not believe in Hell either!”

  10. Jim Kress2 years ago

    I would suggest you consider a large fraction of the “unaffiliated” to be Christians who do not follow the tenets of any organized “religion” and/ or Christians who are basically telling you MYOB.

    1. Ash2 years ago

      Then they should have never taken the survey…

      There are other signs that the religious are declining as well…

      So try not to invalidate a study just because you don’t like it next time 🙂

      1. Lone4323452 years ago

        Yeah i but it dosn’t imply Theism is going away. Only that religious might be.

    2. Daria Blase2 years ago

      They fall under “other Christian” category, which should have been included in the graph.

  11. Laura2 years ago

    It’s clear from the responses above that Christianity in general brings up a level of

    emotionality. I react pretty negatively when discussing the Catholic Church and the

    hypocrisy I lived with in the name of Jesus. Give to the poor, while many archbishops have secret apartments and lovers paid for by local parishes. Give to the poor,
    while the Vatican sits on millions or more worth of gold. That’s why I left Catholicism. The hypocrisy, the lack of a voice for women, the arbitrary rules (don’t eat meat on Friday…because…? ) But the lack of faith has been a loss for me.

    1. Nancy Moorman2 years ago

      Oh, Laura. My heart ached when reading your last sentence. I am a practicing Catholic. I have been deeply wounded by a lot of misrepresentations, allegations of abuse, and other issues that have surfaced in the name of our faith. However, I do think that some of that comes about by the stark contrast of what’s happening in our society at large. It can turn our hearts away from what is meaningful and true. At the core of our Catholic faith, despite some of it’s issues is a rock solid foundation. Come back to the Catholic faith, Laura. I’m not one to leave comments on-line ordinarily, but when I read your post I could not do otherwise. God is calling you back. Read Jeff Cavins’ book, “My Life on the Rock.” It’s an extraordinary account of someone who left the Catholic faith and came back.

  12. Kim2 years ago

    Religious population in total or share is going down because people today are exposed more with information, science, technology, …thanks to the Internet. Superstion, fairy tales are for naive people with less information. Investing in education is the best way to do it. The more people going to college/ university , the more they are unaffiliated to any religion.

  13. LeRoy Sandbakken2 years ago

    Thank You For your data info.

  14. Chasrip2 years ago

    Beause there are so many Protestant churches, the single largest religious tradition is Catholic, at 20.8% nationally and generally around 20% in most states. Note that the Unaffiliated (religious “nones”) are also about 20%–nationally, 22.8%. In most states the percentage of “nones” is larger than the number of Catholics. So, is it possible to say that nones are in fact the single largest religious tradition in America today?!
    The extreme declines in mainstream Protestants would be concerning for those of us who care about traditional American values embodied in the Bill of Rights. Since this country was founded by Protestants who strongly believed in individual liberty–most importantly, the right to religious freedom–I’d be concerned that we’re losing touch with our historical roots. However, if the mainstream Protestants are being replaced by “nones” that bodes well for religious freedom and liberty generally, as we can expect “nones” to be more tolerant of religious diversity than, say, Catholics or Evangelical Protestants.

  15. Linda2 years ago

    The major issue here is that America is moving down a slippery slope of immorality and selfishness spoken of in the Bible for last times. It is just another spoke in the wheel showing that Jesus is coming soon. As in the days of Israel during the Chronicles, everyone is doing what is right in their own sight. Prayer is needed, but alas, it may be too late to save our country as a whole. It is necessary to just focus on one soul at a time, just as Christ did while He was on the earth.

    1. Randall2 years ago

      Linda, except it’s your mythology, your fairytale. Christians have been saying the same thing for two millennia with the same results. Sorry, but Jesus isn’t coming back because Jesus never existed in the first place.

      1. Nicole2 years ago

        I think if you deny the existence of Jesus you are denying history. Multiple scripts outside the Bible speak of Jesus existing: Flavius Josephus, Cornelius Tacitus, Pontius Pilatus, Sextus Julius Africanus and please read this link:…

        Because if you say Jesus didn’t exist than there’s a lot of other people who have far less manuscripts and evidence that they ever existed.

        I’m not asking you to believe that he is your savior, although he is whether you believe it or not he cares about you, loves you and died for all of your imperfections and mine

        1. Thomas Page2 years ago

          You do realize that none of those sources were actually contemporary, don’t you? Some of them don’t even mention him, instead talking only about Christians. Personally, I don’t think it at all likely that there was no historical Jesus, but we know virtually nothing about him from extra-biblical sources.

          1. Smitty2 years ago

            there is one ultimate truth of his existence, besides the documents mentioned above. The fact that the apostles were all executed for there belief. These executions were also legitimized by the Roman government. What I mean is that sensible human beings do not proclaim anything unto their own deaths, especially via horrific torture, that they don’t fully adhere to. These weren’t peer executions where this one did it because of his companion next to him. They were all executed at different times and places, with nothing to gain. The history that I have read would indicate an atmosphere of utter failure and hopelessness, yet these men continued on… They had a dire message that had to be told no matter what.

      2. Roderick2 years ago

        Bravo Randall….one of thes days it will DAWN on them that Jesus is the Sun.

    2. Kristina2 years ago

      Religion DOES NOT equal morality. Religious people do good out of fear of eternal damnation. Non-religious people do good because of true morality. You don’t have to fear a higher being to make the right choice.

      1. Nicole2 years ago

        Kristina you are right religion does not equal morality. I can speak only for myself the reason I do good is because of my savior Christ Jesus. I struggle daily with not choosing to be selfish, but the good that comes out of me is purely the holy spirit within. I do good, because my savior is good, not out of fear of being damned. I know 100% that because I have accepted Christ as my savior I can not lose that salvation even though I continually am not perfect. I am so thankful for his continual never ending grace that is promised. I’m curious if non-religious is true morality if you are doing it for yourself?

      2. Jim Kress2 years ago

        If there is no “higher being” then who defines the “right choice”? You cannot have morality without God. You can only have opinions.

        1. Thomas Page2 years ago

          If you are only being good from fear of punishment then you aren’t being moral at all, merely obedient. Go read the Euthyphro – Socrates showed the absurdity of thinking morality could be grounded in God almost 2500 years ago.

      3. Gregory Aharfi2 years ago

        The reason atheists / agnostics can brag about being moral is because of centuries of biblical teachings. The biblical ethics has become inseparable from the west’s values. It has even reached all corners of the earth thanks to travelers, Hollywood and now internet.

      4. Nightingale Whiteowl2 years ago

        There are those who believe that human beings are _not_ inherently “good” and say religion was developed to help them keep from being “bad”.

        There are religious persons who say they are moral because their church tells them to be. And those who say they are moral simply because they “feel” what is right and wrong.

        How much does evolution play in this? Perhaps intrinsically moral people are just more highly developed mentally (and “spiritually”, if you will). But, surely, moral people, for whatever reason, religious or not, subscribe to and have an interest in perpetuating mankind, not destroying it for their own pleasures here and now.

        Determining answers to these questions is quite beyond what Pew Research has done. Their statistical information helps us to see that there are more questions we ought to look into, and I appreciate their efforts in bringing this information to us.

  16. James2 years ago

    It would be interesting to compare these results with crime rates from 2007-2014. Religions have always placed emphasis on an proper morals. It has always been an effective crime deterrent by its rules: don’t steal, don’t kill, practice forgiveness, etc…

    It would interesting to see if there is or isn’t any correlation.

    1. Angie2 years ago

      I feel certain those rules (don’t steal, don’t kill, practice forgiveness, etc…) were governed by civilization long before the imaginary sky fairy showed up in history.

      1. Thomas2 years ago

        Morality is an interesting thing, Angie. Why bother? If there is no higher reason to be nice then let’s have fun and the strongest get what they want. The preschool kids in my class think that such thinking is “wrong”. Why would that be? Seems like there is something inside us that checks our behavior, a “treat others the way you want to be treated” mentality. I, personally, am completely not interested in that concept because I want what I want and if I can get it then it is simply too bad for the other. There is no morality so don’t tell me rape is wrong… it would simply be me satisfying my need. We are all, in the end just high functioning animals.

        1. Thomas Page2 years ago

          Children have to be kept on the straight and narrow with punishment until they are old enough to understand why they need to follow the rules. Grownups like myself understand why rape is wrong, and wouldn’t do it even if no one were watching. Perhaps someday you will understand – until then, we grownups will simply keep telling you that rape is wrong and punish you should you commit it.

          1. Alex2 years ago

            Except that rape, and all serious crimes, break the “treat others the way you would like to be treated” rule. It makes evolutionary sense that people should treat others well, so that they also treat them well and help them survive. That is why many species of animals hunt/live in packs, and look out for one another. Raping someone generally destroys any chance of that person trusting you and helping you survive.

    2. IslandAtheist2 years ago

      NUMBERS 31:17-18 God commanded Moses to kill all of the male Midianite children and “kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”

    3. Thomas Page2 years ago

      There is, a strong one: as religion declines, so does crime. Atheists are the most law-abiding segment of the population.

      1. Kelly Madden2 years ago

        Two imprudently broad statements.

        Correlation does not entail causation, and I would be shocked if you could even establish a correlation, across history.

    4. Ash2 years ago

      Less religious people is correlated with less crime…
      So if the study was to be done on crime rates from 2007 to 2014 it would most likely be a drop in crime if anything.

      1. Janna2 years ago

        And that is, in fact, what has happened.…

    5. Janna2 years ago

      That’s not an extreme feat of research.…

      Declining crime rates.