American Conservatives Have More To Grapple With
An extensive survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older, details the shifts in the U.S. religious landscape.
Overall, the demographic changes mean that America is becoming a minority Protestant nation with more religiously unaffiliated than ever before, more atheists/agnostics, and a growing number of non Christians, including American-born Buddhists.
Non Christians are thriving socially and financially, with nearly half of Hindus in the U.S., one-third of Jews and a quarter of Buddhists having obtained post-graduate education, compared with only about 10% of the adult population overall. Hindus and Jews are much more likely than other groups to report high income levels.
Key Findings: Protestants Becoming The Minority
- Barely 51% of Americans now report that they are members of Protestant denominations.
- More than one-quarter (28%) of American adults have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion or no religion at all.
- 16.1% are unaffiliated with any faith today – more than double the number who say they were not affiliated as children.
- 1 in 4 Americans ages 18-29 say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.
- Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses. While nearly 31% were raised in the Catholic faith, fewer than 24% now describe themselves as Catholic.
A Growing and Diverse Unaffiliated Group
The 16.1% who are unaffiliated with any particular religion exhibit remarkable internal diversity:
- 25% are atheist or agnostic (1.6% and 2.4% of the adult population overall, respectively).
- The remainder (12.1% of the adult population overall) describe their religion as “nothing in particular.”
The latter group is evenly divided between:
- “Secular unaffiliated” who say that religion is not important in their lives (6.3% of the adult population), and
- “Religious unaffiliated,” who say that religion is either somewhat important or very important in their lives (5.8% of the overall adult population).
Non Christians Thriving
Even smaller religions in the U.S. reflect considerable internal diversity:
- Most Jews (1.7% of the overall adult population) identify with one of three major groups: Reform, Conservative or Orthodox Judaism.
- More than half of Buddhists (0.7% of the overall adult population) belong to one of three major groups within Buddhism: Zen, Theravada or Tibetan Buddhism.
- Muslims (0.6% of the overall adult population) divide primarily into two major groups: Sunni and Shia.
The non Christians are thriving socially and financially:
- Nearly half of Hindus in the U.S., one-third of Jews and a quarter of Buddhists have obtained post-graduate education, compared with only about 10% of the adult population overall.
- In sharp contrast to Islam and Hinduism, Buddhism in the U.S. is primarily made up of native-born adherents, whites and converts. Only one-in-three American Buddhists describe their race as Asian, while nearly three-in-four Buddhists say they are converts to Buddhism.
- Hindus and Jews are much more likely than other groups to report high income levels.
Other Survey Highlights
Other highlights in the report include these:
- Men are significantly more likely than women to claim no religious affiliation. Nearly 20% say they have no formal religious affiliation, vs. 13% of women.
- Black Americans are the most likely to report a formal religious affiliation.
- Non affiliated are relatively young:
- 31% are under age 30 vs. 20% of the overall adult population.
- 71% are under age 50 vs. 59% of the overall adult population.
More and more, the changing demographic landscape demonstrates that this is not your grandfather’s conservative, WASPish America, and looks much less like the current Republican Party. Americans are more fluid in their affiliations, and becoming more intellectually empowered.
Marketers had better get over traditional approaches to the market and get their fingers on the pulse of the nation.