Growth of religious 'nones' appears to be slowing: Gallup report
Americans who identify as religious unaffiliated appear to be slowing in their population growth, according to a recent analysis from the prominent polling organization Gallup.
Gallup Senior Scientist Frank Newport wrote an analysis published Friday that examined the much talked about rise in religious unaffiliated Americans, or “nones” for short.
Newport noted that while the nones population had risen from near zero percent in the 1950s to around 20% of the U.S. population, this growth has “stabilized” since 2017.
“An average of 20% or 21% of Americans in Gallup surveys in each of these years say they don’t have a formal religious identity. We are not seeing the yearly increases that occurred in previous decades,” wrote Newport.
The expert noted that the issue of religious nones has been extensively covered by journalists and has also produced “hundreds of scholarly articles, academic reviews and books examining the phenomenon of religious identity.”
“Most of these operate on the assumption that the percentage of nones is continually rising — part of a general trend toward secularization in U.S. society. Our trend on religious identity suggests some caution in assuming that these trends are inexorable,” Newport continued.
Newport also documented some of the complexities of classifying religious belief when polling people, noting that there exist “other measures of religiosity, and they don’t all show the same patterns.”
“Those with no religious identity can still be religious, as measured by their responses to other questions,” he added. “And those who identify with a religion can be quite irreligious, based on their responses to those same questions.”
“Another measure of religiosity involves membership in a church, synagogue, mosque or temple. Trends show such membership has declined over the years. This may reflect the fact that Americans are less interested these days in official ‘membership,’ even if they remain religious.”
Newport is not the first researcher to find an apparent decline in the growth of religiously unaffiliated Americans.
Melissa Deckman, a Public Affairs professor at Washington College and affiliated scholar with the Public Religion Research Institute, reported on the possible slowing down in a February 2020 report.
Deckman found that millennials, Americans born between 1981 and 1996, and Gen Z, Americans born after 1996, are “awfully similar” to each other regarding “religious affiliation and religious behavior.”
“[T]he percentage of Gen Z Americans who identify as religiously unaffiliated is similar to the millennials found in PRRI’s 2016 American Values Survey,” she wrote at the time.
“In other words, it appears that the rate of younger Americans departing from organized religion is holding steady, so conflating Gen Zers with millennials is not necessarily inappropriate when it comes to religious affiliation — at least so far.”
Last year, the PRRI released a Census of American Religion report, which drew from phone interviews conducted with approximately 50,300 Americans throughout 2020.
According to the 2021 report, while 25.5% of Americans identified as religiously unaffiliated in 2018, the number declined slightly to 24% in 2019 and then 23.3% in 2020. Additionally, the share of nones between the ages of 18 and 29 declined from 38% in 2018 to 36% in 2020.