November 14, 2016

If the U.S. had 100 people: Charting Americans’ religious affiliations

As of 2014, there were roughly 245 million adults in the United States, including 173 million Christians and 56 million people without a religious affiliation. These are big numbers that, along with many others in the religious demographic pie, can at times make it difficult to fully understand the American religious landscape.

But what if we looked at this big picture a little differently? What if we imagined the U.S. as a small town, population 100, instead of a continent-spanning nation with hundreds of millions of people? Doing so presents an interesting thought experiment because it allows us to see basic data about the U.S. and its people in a fresh, simple and illuminating way.

The following five charts use data from the 2014 Religious Landscape Study to create a religious demographic profile of the U.S. if the country were made up of exactly 100 adults.

If the U.S. contained just 100 adults, 25 would be people who identify with evangelical Protestant denominations, 23 would be religiously unaffiliated and 21 would be Catholic. Just two would be Mormon, two would be Jewish and one would be Muslim.

Four of these 100 would be Catholics ages 18 to 29, two would be 65 or older and religiously unaffiliated, and 15 would be Protestants ages 30 to 49.

Among adult women, 26 would be Protestant, 11 would be Catholic and 10 would be religiously unaffiliated. Among the men would be 21 Protestants, 10 Catholics and 13 religious “nones.”

If the U.S. had just 100 adults, 32 would be white and Protestant, seven would be Hispanic and Catholic and one would be black and Catholic. There would be 16 white unaffiliated adults, eight black Protestants and three religiously unaffiliated Hispanics.

The South would be home to 37 people, 22 of whom would be Protestants and seven religious “nones.” The Northeast would house six Protestants, five Catholics, one Jew and four unaffiliated adults. The West would contain one of the two Mormons and the Midwest would contain 11 Protestants, four Catholics and five religious “nones.”

Topics: Christians and Christianity, Jews and Judaism, Muslims and Islam, Religion and Society, Religious Affiliation, Religiously Unaffiliated

  1. Photo of Becka A. Alper

    is a research associate focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

  2. is a copy editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

9 Comments

  1. Anonymous2 weeks ago

    One could also narrow down. If the 100 person village was the San Francisco Bay Area, my calculations from the Pew data

    10 evangelical protestants
    6 mainline
    4 history black
    25 catholic
    1 mormon
    1 orthodox christian
    1 other christian

    for a total of 48 christians

    5 hindus
    3 jews
    2 buddhists
    2 unitarians or something similar
    1 muslim
    1 other world religion
    1 new age
    35 unaffiliated
    2 who don’t know

  2. James Linnane3 weeks ago

    This is a great way to present survey data. Pew is always to be congratulated for enlightening the public with facts. That said, Pew has to take some blame for Trump’s election. There is way too much emphasis on the notion that demography determines everything. This is why the Democrats and the media missed Trump’s appeal. One hopes that Pew would back off a bit and more thoroughly explore other aspects of pubic life besides race, religion, and sexual preference to the exclusion of everything else.

    1. Anonymous2 weeks ago

      What other aspects of public life would you recommend they “explore?” If they are to be commended for such factual reporting and still blamed for contributing to the victory or defeat of any particular candidate then it sounds like facts, while commendable, are not particularly helpful to your political agenda. While confused, I would welcome reading your suggestions for other, non-demographic aspects of public life.

    2. Anonymous2 weeks ago

      Pew to blame? LOL

  3. Anonymous3 weeks ago

    Interesting study and a good way to present the information. If I might make a suggestion, though, I find the Pew surveys somewhat frustrating in that their use of the “Unaffiliated” category, which doesn’t tell us very much about an increasing portion of the population. This undifferentiated group could include people who consider themselves “Christian” but don’t belong to a denomination or attend a specific church; it could include those who believe in God but don’t consider themselves Christian; or those who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious,” or those who believe in a “higher power”; it could include those who are atheist, or agnostic; as well as those whose opinions are not strongly formed.

    It future surveys, it would help a great deal to try to break down these groups, whose beliefs will be quite varied.

    1. Becka A. Alper2 weeks ago

      Thanks for your comment. We specify in our 2014 Religious Landscape Study that the religiously unaffiliated include atheists, agnostics and those who say they have no particular religion. Those who identify as nondenominational Christians are not included in this category. We further break out those who say their religion is nothing in particular in our report, “U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious,” into those who say religion is not important and those who say religion is important in their lives. You can also see how beliefs and practices vary among those who are religious “nones” here.

  4. Anonymous3 weeks ago

    What about people who explicitly identify as atheist? It seems they are simply lumped together into the “Unaffiliated” remainder category.

    1. Becka A. Alper2 weeks ago

      Thanks for your comment. We specify in our 2014 Religious Landscape Study that the religiously unaffiliated include atheists, agnostics and those who say they have no particular religion. Those who identify as nondenominational Christians are not included in this category. We further break out those who say their religion is nothing in particular in our report, “U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious,” into those who say religion is not important and those who say religion is important in their lives. You can also see how beliefs and practices vary among those who are religious “nones” here.

  5. bj brebner3 weeks ago

    Hello,
    I just might offer one suggestion. I have observed (through career in social work) that identity via religion is more complex than standard Protestant, Catholic etc as denoted in your reported statistics. First, not all people ‘stick’ to one religious affiliation, they shift, evolve, and ‘join’ or ‘unaffiliate’ as a societal construct. For example, unchurched or unaffiliate may have reared children in church but quit attending or may just default to Protestant when question due to parental affiliation. Others, due to social connections ‘drift’ to a religious affiliation via peer association; more like joining a club, or fraternal college organization. Teasing out religious roots becomes relevant in an election; a values grounded Catholic or Baptist or Presbyterian will ‘hold to basic beliefs. Where as a socially bases affiliation will more likely than not abdicate values to the adopted group norm. The base values are going to be informative in a divisive value driven election like Trump-Clinton. On a strict behaviorally religious tone Clintons ‘sins’ by commission and omission were unrepented… True repentance was never offered nor forgiveness sought. The election may have swung to her via Southern baptists, Catholics and other strong bible based religions who embrace true repentance and embrace and love the sinner. Trumps behavior was ‘frat house naught’ ‘bad boy or naught brother’ normed vs oath of office slips, appearance of favoritism, dismissal of personal flawed judgement with emails, and a voice that was scripted lacking a sincere tone of the truly repentant. Religious affiliation tells nothing regarding the individuals identitifying hold on religiously based values in evaluating the ‘reliability stock’ of a candidate. The Bible and other religious beliefs desire the believe to look to ‘fruit’ or outcomes in a persons life or career. Trumps fruit appears to be ‘good’ (children, work, personal efforts ownership and boldly unpolically correct, which was authentic) Clintons fruit (Chelsea, good, but work as Secretary of State toxic or poisonous outcomes in the Middle East, as also her Foundation, although dedicated to good, by appearances was a shell for questionable bought access) Religious affiliate tells a small part about finally making the decision at the poll and even if your going out to vote at all. Also people will be deceptive especially in the face of being belittled, or labeled a racist, etc. looking deeper; the division is widening and you appear to not yet have the tools to tease out the roots of division.