The number of Americans who pray or say they believe in God hit "an all-time low" in 2014, according to a new study published in the journal Sage Open.
San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge led the study carried out by a team that also included Ryne Sherman from Florida Atlantic University as well as Julie J. Exline and Joshua B. Grubbs from Case Western Reserve University.
The study, according to the San Diego State University News Center, looked at data from 58,893 respondents to the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults administered between 1972 and 2014.
In 2014, five times as many Americans reported that they never prayed when compared with Americans in the early 1980s. Nearly twice as many over the same period also said they did not believe in God.
"Most previous studies concluded that fewer Americans were publicly affiliating with a religion, but that Americans were just as religious in private ways. That's no longer the case, especially in the last few years," explained Twenge, who is also author of the book, Generation Me.
"The large declines in religious practice among young adults are also further evidence that millennials are the least religious generation in memory, and possibly in American history," she added.
Americans in recent years, says the study, were less likely to engage in a wide variety of religious practices, including attending religious services, identifying as a religious person, and believing that the Bible is Divinely inspired. The biggest declines in their prayer life and belief in God have been seen among respondents between the ages of 18 and 29, leading Twenge to suggest that America is becoming more secular.
The one exception to the decline in religious beliefs was a slight increase in belief in the afterlife.
"It was interesting that fewer people participated in religion or prayed but more believed in an afterlife," Twenge said. "It might be part of a growing entitlement mentality — thinking you can get something for nothing."
The statistics on the prayer life of Americans is consistent with the findings of a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center.
While a majority of Americans, some 55 percent continued to report that they pray at least once a day the study highlighted that the share of U.S. adults who seldom or never pray has increased from 18 percent to 23 percent since 2007.
The change was tied to the growing share of Americans who say they have no religious affiliation. Religiously unaffiliated adults pray far less frequently compared with those who identify with a religion, and an increasing share of religious "nones" said they seldom or never pray, according to the study.
Among those who do identify with a religious group, there were only modest changes in self-reported frequency of prayer. Jehovah's Witnesses were reported to be the most prayerful of the religious groups, with fully 90 percent reporting that they pray daily.
They were followed by large majorities of Mormons with 85 percent; members of the historically black Protestant tradition, 80 percent; and evangelical Protestants 79 percent of whom reported that they pray every day.