July 29, 2015

Major U.S. metropolitan areas differ in their religious profiles

The religious face of America is largely a Christian one, with roughly seven-in-ten Americans belonging to that faith. But some of the nation’s biggest metropolitan areas have a very different look.

Only about half of the residents in the Seattle (52%) and San Francisco (48%) metropolitan areas identify as Christians, as well as roughly six-in-ten or fewer of those living in Boston (57%) and New York (59%).

The Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study was designed to look at the religious affiliations of Americans overall as well as those in all 50 states and the 17 largest metropolitan areas in the country. While Christians make up between 65% and 75% of adults in most of those metro areas – and people with no religious affiliation generally make up roughly 20-25% of the population – some cities stand out for a variety of reasons.

Boston, Seattle and San Francisco Have Relatively Few Christians

Seattle, San Francisco and Boston are notable not only because they have relatively few Christians, but also for their considerable populations of religious “nones” (atheists, agnostics and those who say their religion is “nothing in particular”). A third or more of people in each of those metropolitan areas (37% in Seattle, 35% in San Francisco and 33% in Boston) are religious “nones.”

One-in-ten Seattleites are self-identified atheists (10%), while 6% are agnostics. Meanwhile, 10% of San Franciscans call themselves agnostics, compared with 5% who are atheists.

Nearly a quarter of New Yorkers are religiously unaffiliated (24%), but the city also is home to relatively high numbers of members of non-Christian faiths. Nearly one-in-ten New Yorkers (8%) are Jewish, 3% are Muslim and another 3% are Hindu. Among the 17 largest metropolitan areas, New York’s Jewish share is matched only by Miami (9%).

Roughly three-quarters of residents of three Southern cities – Dallas (78%), Atlanta (76%) and Houston (73%) – are Christians. In each case, at least three-in-ten are evangelical Protestants (including 38% in Dallas). And Atlanta, the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. is home to an especially large share of members of the historically black Protestant tradition (18%).

Three of the most heavily Catholic cities also are the nation’s three largest cities. About a third of residents of New York (33%), Los Angeles (32%) and Chicago (34%) are Catholic. In each of these cities, fewer than one-in-five residents are evangelical Protestants (including just 9% in New York) – compared with a quarter of U.S. adults overall who are evangelicals.

Among the nation’s biggest metro areas, Phoenix has one of the highest concentrations of Mormons (6%). But this analysis does not include smaller cities, such as Salt Lake City, that may have a larger proportion of Mormons.

Note: Further details on the religious makeup of cities (as well as states) are available at our interactive website on the 2014 Religious Landscape Study.

Topics: Religious Affiliation, Catholics and Catholicism, Christians and Christianity, Evangelical Protestants and Evangelicalism, Mormons and Mormonism, Jews and Judaism, Religiously Unaffiliated

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

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


  1. mx.mystic2 years ago

    I noticed a religious group that, though small in numbers has had tremendous impact on politics and culture in America–the Religious Society of Friends–is absent from your list. Friends (Quakers) are also subject to diversity within their ranks, a large “liberal” wing (Friends General Conference) and a large evangelical wing. There is even an emergence of a few independent congregations from the evangelicals that are not charactorized by homophobia (Freedom Friends Church of Salem, OR & West Hills Friends of Portland,OR). Unfortunately, the “family” heritage of so many Friends congregations leads to racial homogeneity over all.

    1. ski2 years ago

      Thee Quakers are demographically irrelevant and dying out.

  2. David H. Hagen2 years ago

    I disagree with some of the people posting comments here that say seven out of ten people can’t be Christians in America. Who are you to say that? If people say they are Christian when the pollster asked them, that’s what they have to go with. I know many people who claim Christianity as their religion but don’t attend church. That’s a failing of the church and should not be attributed to the size of the Christian community in that area. If you ask someone if they are Christian and they say yes, that’s what you have to go with.

    Also, atheists and agnostic afraid to say they are? If they lie and say they are Christian, what should the pollster do? Interrogate them? You have to go on what they tell them, and the fact is 7 out of 10 people asked said they were Christian.

  3. Hugh West2 years ago

    Don’t forget, when people are asked by pollsters to name their religion, they often respond by naming the religion they think they are supposed to believe in. It’s more about socialization than belief. If seven in ten Americans were really Christians–practicing Christians–they would be building churches faster than you could count them. They aren’t. They’re closing churches faster than you can count them. I choose to discount this ‘survey’ on empirical evidence.

    1. Chris Carroll1 year ago

      Actually, your “empirical evidence” does not “discount this ‘survey.'” Pew never makes the claim that they are reporting on religious practices or beliefs in this report. They explicitly state that these are statistics regarding “religious affiliation” or how people “self-identify.” I don’t think the words “belief” or “church” are even used in the report at all.

      Pew has a ton of other data on this website that looks at religious practices and beliefs among Americans. There are probably even data on church building that can help you support or refute the claims you make about churches closing. Although it still won’t tell us about religious affiliation, as all the churches in the U.S. could close or turn into museums and there could still be people who self-identify as Christian. Look at parts of Europe.

  4. Dee2 years ago

    I think many, many more people are atheist, agnostic than is reported because they are afraid to admit so because of the backlash from the, shall I say crazy, religious people.

    1. Anonymous2 years ago

      I really doubt that people are “afraid” to do so now in age.

      By the way:
      Agnosticism =/= Atheism since agnosticism revolves around the idea of there being no proof, or lack of proof to take a stance on the existence of a subject.

      Also take note, people can be agnostic-atheist, or agnostic-theist (Still believe in a higher being, force, deity, etc.)

      I am a theistic-agnostic.

      It gets me a bit ticked when people try to state “agnostic” is another term for athiest since that is not true.

      Religious people are “Gnostic Theist”

      Convinced atheists are “Gnostic Atheists”

      Gnostic= Related to the knowledge on a topic, hence the term “convinced”

      Agnostic= Related to the lack of knowledge on a topic, hence skepticism

  5. Michael Swaine2 years ago

    What’s a seven-in-ten American? (In case it’s not obvious, I’m ridiculing your gratuitous hyphenation.)

  6. Artie2 years ago

    Amazing that in this day and age of science, logic, proven history and reason that so many people STILL blindly accept the absurdity of what is largely 2000 + year old religious based fairy tales and total BS. “What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.”
    Christopher Hitchens

    1. Dee2 years ago

      Agree 100% with you. Who in their right mind would believe in such a thing as gods and religions? Religion is the number one reason for war.

      1. Chuck2 years ago

        The question comes from how you define what God is. If you believe its simply a creator, then God would be also called the Big Bang. Of course you could define it as a magic guy in the sky, or you could believe something more than that, I think problems come from people who simply stop trying to understand something that has personal meaning that can seem beyond languages’ limitations of quantification because they are simply lazy.

        “Religion” feeds more hungry people than government assistance and vaccinates and provides healthcare for thousands of people the world over. Catholic education is the reason public school was first instituted in much of European and American society in order to bring men closer to their highest potential or in “God’s image” in that we all should learn to read and write and not have a select few do our reading and writing for us. The benefits of religion have essentially brought us to this place in human development, in the formation of community and a common shared morality which has led us to create government & laws which reflect those common values.
        Just something to ponder for people who have not figured out the universe as succinctly as you have.

      2. TammyP2 years ago

        Conflict over political ideologies have killed far more people than religions ever have.

      3. Anonymous User2 years ago

        No one has disproven the idea of a “God” for one. Atheism relies on faith to be legitimate because most athiest prefer to not believe in a “God” simply because religion.

        Atheists have disproved belief systems, but they haven’t progressed on disproving the idea of a mono-esq force, deity, or higher being.

        The problem I have with a small group of athiests is that they jump to conclusions simply because of a belief system.

        Many seem to forget that many people believe in a vague version of a “God”.

        The vague version is more open to what defines “God” since many do in fact believe there was this “thing” that made everything into existence whether it be via a domino effect, utilizing laws to govern things, etc.

        Don’t limit the definition of a “God” to the definition of religions.

        I find it hysterical when people debate “I don’t believe in a God because I don’t think a 2000 year old book was written by God”, this is a prime example of disproving an interpretation of a belief system. In no way does it disprove the idea of a “God”.

        I’m an agnostic-theist and my definition of a God does not resemble that of religions. I personally believe that their has to be cause and effect. The things that caused everything whether it be the “Big Bang” or a simple/complex law that governs everything is what I call “God”.

    2. Sandra staples2 years ago

      So true

    3. Chuck Barnes2 years ago

      I bet when you are hurting badly you will call on God to heal your pain, I pray that you will become filled with the love and grace that only God can provide you.

      1. DAVID CHMIELEWSKI2 years ago


    4. Joegee2 years ago

      look up the word deception it is the number one problem

    5. Anonymous User2 years ago

      Good, you just disproved one religion, and yet have no evidence to disprove a higher being, deity, or force, how cute.

    6. DAVID CHMIELEWSKI2 years ago

      Hope that works for you when your time is up!

  7. ivan2 years ago

    religion is just a notion.

    1. Jay2 years ago

      That was profound :/