July 11, 2016

Which U.S. religious groups are oldest and youngest?

The U.S. religious landscape is already in the midst of some dramatic changes when it comes to the growth or decline of people with certain religious identities. And while it is impossible to predict exactly how that landscape will shift in the future, some key demographic factors — particularly age — can provide a clue as to how things might unfold in the coming decades.

For example, religious groups whose members are younger may be more likely to grow, not only because those members will live longer, but also because more of them are still of childbearing age (and thus have a greater chance of passing on their religion to their descendants).

With this in mind, some of the groups that have already been growing in recent years may be primed for continued growth. This includes people with no religious affiliation: The median age of adults who say their religion is “nothing in particular” is 38, while for atheists and agnostics it is 34.

Age structure and median age of U.S. religious groups

Overall, these three groups together (often called religious “nones”) have a median age of 36 – fully a decade younger than the median age of U.S. adults overall (46), according to data from our 2014 Religious Landscape Study.

Members of some non-Christian faiths also are very young – U.S. Muslims and Hindus in the survey each have a median age of 33. About four-in-ten Muslim adults in the U.S. are under the age of 30, and nine-in-ten Hindu adults are under 50.

At the other end of the spectrum, members of two Presbyterian denominations are among the oldest of the 30 religious groups we were able to analyze, which include Protestant denominations, other religious groups and the three categories of people who are religiously unaffiliated. The median age of adults who identify with the Presbyterian Church in America (an evangelical denomination) and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (a mainline denomination) is 59 for each group, identical to the median for members of the mainline United Church of Christ.

Only about one-in-ten adults in these denominations are under the age of 30; the same is true of Anglicans, United Methodists and Episcopalians and members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Mormons, Orthodox Christians and Seventh-day Adventists, meanwhile, are relatively young compared with most other Christian groups.

Of course, age is not the only factor in future growth patterns of religious groups, meaning that younger groups may not necessarily grow (and older groups may not shrink) as a share of the population. Fertility rates, religious switching, immigration and other factors also come into play. For a full discussion of these factors, see our 2015 global population growth projections for religious groups.

Topics: Demographics, Generations and Age, Religion and Society

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

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

37 Comments

  1. Anonymous2 months ago

    So, “Nothing in Particular”, Agnostic, and Atheist all trend younger than the US population as a whole. One thing I wonder, though, is whether there is an age and life-stage effect on religiosity? Speaking personally, I have felt a stronger pull toward religiosity later in life.

    1. Michael Lipka2 months ago

      There is some discussion of this topic in our report, starting with the third paragraph of this section (begins “It is possible, of course, that younger adults will become more religious with age”): pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-publ…

      Thanks for your comment.
      Michael Lipka

  2. Mariann Norman Rufle2 months ago

    Unitarians are listed but Ethical Societies are not. Why?

  3. Ted LeMoine2 months ago

    Lol church of Christian Scientists? Stop you’re killing me

  4. Anonymous2 months ago

    Interesting that the trend appears to be Muslim/agnostic /atheist. The Muslim percent surprised me.

  5. Anonymous2 months ago

    I would be interested in how Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) compares. Why were they omitted?

  6. Anonymous2 months ago

    I didn’t see the United Church of Christ (UCC). Any figures on us?

    1. Michael Lipka2 months ago

      UCC is third from the top in the chart. Here is more data on the group: pewforum.org/religious-landscape…

  7. Christian Histo3 months ago

    As a leader in the PCA, I seriously question this result. My experience in PCA churches is that they are very young. I have been in three different PCA churches and visited many others – the demographics I have observed were overwhelmingly young. I think that if you look at evangelicalism as a whole versus mainline that makes sense. My guess is that the data had a lot of noise in it because many people just think of themselves as “Presbyterian” and do not know the differences between PCA, PCUSA and other smaller groups.

    1. Steven Salter2 months ago

      Christian Histo, I have been involved with the PCA since 1996. I agree with the data reported in the article. Many PCA congregations in the southeast are mostly white, middle to upper class, 59+ year olds. It is sobering. I can assure you that Pew can (and does) distinguish between the PCA and USA. My encouragement to you is this: if you are surrounded by young crowds in the PCA – great! Feed them, engage them and let’s pray God will bring fruit and growth.

  8. Darren Rozumek3 months ago

    No mention of Church of Christ, Scientist? I realize out numbers have dwindled in recent years but I didn’t think we were off the radar.

    1. Virginia Kahn2 months ago

      third from the top look again

  9. Anonymous3 months ago

    I’m surprised to see Church of Christ, Scientist left out. I know our numbers have been dwindling in recent years but I didn’t think we were quite that insignificant.

  10. Harriet Wimsey3 months ago

    I’m a member of the PCA. We have big families with lots of kids in my church and in our local “sister” churches, but our denomination doesn’t report children under 17 in their membership. So I don’t know that we’re older, just that we don’t report.

    So … you might want to have a talk with the General Assembly and see what they think.

    1. Michael Lipka3 months ago

      Hi Harriet,

      Thanks for your comment. Our data for all groups only looks at adults ages 18 and older. So the median ages shown in the chart are just for adults (not children).

      Also, our research does not rely on self-reporting from religious denominations. It is based on a nationally representative telephone survey of Americans. For more on how we conducted the research, see our methodology: pewforum.org/2015/05/12/appendix….

      Thanks,
      Michael Lipka

  11. Anonymous3 months ago

    What was the sample size? How was the data collected?

    1. Michael Lipka3 months ago

      The overall sample size was roughly 35,000 respondents. Our full methodology can be seen here: pewforum.org/2015/05/12/appendix…

      Michael Lipka

  12. Hella Jason3 months ago

    umm you left out pastafarianism the FSM isn’t upset he really doesn’t even care but it should’ve been included maybe next time.

    Ramen

  13. Anonymous3 months ago

    Interesting study! Is it possible to get numbers on the sizes of each group?

    1. Michael Lipka3 months ago

      Thanks! Yes, this table has the size of each group as a share of all U.S. adults: pewforum.org/files/2015/05/Relig….

      These figures can also be seen on our interactive website, which allows you to explore data for all of these groups: pewforum.org/religious-landscape…

      Michael Lipka

  14. Anonymous3 months ago

    Couple of questions… where do you list what are commonly referred to as “non-denominational” or “Community” churches? What about ARC Churches?

    1. Anonymous3 months ago

      Also wondering this.

    2. Anonymous3 months ago

      I wonder if they were included under Orthodox Christian?

      1. Anonymous2 months ago

        Community churches certainly would not be included in Orthodox Churches.

    3. Michael Lipka3 months ago

      Data on members of nondenominational evangelical churches, for example, (along with many other groups) can be found on this website: pewforum.org/religious-landscape…

  15. Mark Criddle3 months ago

    Mormons are younger likely do to the amount of children they tend to have. Repopulating the religion with younger members. Even as your article suggests this religion will always stay younger in demographics compared to the many others for that reason alone. However, it should be noted that the younger people are moving away from religion entirely more and more with each new generation. 😊

    1. Anonymous3 months ago

      At first examination I thought the same, but then noted that the analysis focuses on population groups starting at 18. The survey addressed adult churchgoers which takes out the influence of larger numbers of children per adult.

  16. Anonymous3 months ago

    Why was the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) omitted from the research?

    1. Anonymous3 months ago

      Probably because there are so few to be statistically insignificant.

    2. Michael Lipka3 months ago

      There was not a large enough sample of Quakers in the survey for separate analysis.

    3. Anonymous3 months ago

      Even if the official Quaker counts are accurate, they make up about 0.001 of American adults. That means Pew likely got only 25-50 responses from Quakers. That’s not nearly enough to include.

    4. Anonymous2 months ago

      Is it possible they didn’t answer their phone.or didn’t have one?

  17. Anonymous3 months ago

    Just wondering: Where are those who follow a pagan religion mentioned?

    1. Anonymous3 months ago

      I noticed that too. I find it interesting that they excluded pagan religions as I’ve heard they are some of the fastest growing religions in the US.

    2. Anonymous3 months ago

      Are there matrices that include pagans aa percentage of the population? If there are I would love to see them!

      1. Michael Lipka3 months ago

        Our research finds that self-identified pagans make up 0.3% of all U.S. adults (too few in our sample for separate analysis): pewforum.org/files/2015/05/Relig…

    3. Anonymous3 months ago

      Hinduism is mentioned… that’s pagan