Mainline White Protestants outnumber White Evangelicals, while ‘Nones’ shrink
(RNS) – The decline of white Christians has slowed. Main Protestants now outnumber white evangelicals. New York is home to many of the most religiously diverse counties in the United States
These changes and findings are among the notable revelations documented in an in-depth and comprehensive study of the American religious landscape by the Public Religion Research Institute.
The 2020 Census of American Religion, released Thursday, July 7, is based on what researchers have called an “unprecedented” data set that includes hundreds of thousands of respondents surveyed between 2013 and 2019.
Clergy and other religious leaders may be more interested in PRRI’s finding that Americans not affiliated with religion, or Nones, in religious demographic parlance, have lost ground, accounting for just 23%. from the country. The complex group – which includes atheists, agnostics and some people who say they pray daily but do not claim a specific religious tradition – peaked at 25.5% of the population in 2018.
White Christians, meanwhile, have expanded their share of the population, especially mainline white Protestants. This group stands at 16.4%, an increase from 13% in 2016, while white evangelicals now make up about 14.5% of the population, up from a peak of 23% in 2006. White Catholics are now oscillating. around 11.7%, compared to a low in 2018 of 10.9%.
The percentage of white Christians has increased overall from 42% in 2018 to 44% in 2020.
PRRI CEO Robert Jones said in an email that the survey did not provide a specific explanation for the change among white Christians. But he pointed to “circumstantial evidence” which suggests “over the past two years in particular, white Protestants appear to have absorbed at least some people leaving white evangelical churches and others who might otherwise have ended up in the camp without religious affiliation.” .
Even with these small gains, however, white Christians have dramatically declined as a proportion of the population over the past few decades, accounting for 54% of the population as recently as 2006.
And the political power of unaffiliated Americans continues to grow. Major parties represent the same percentage of each political party in 2020 as in 2006 – 22% of Republicans, 16% of Democrats. They are also politically divided in three ways: According to the report, 33% identify as Republicans, 35% identify as Democrats, and 30% identify as independent. In contrast, the percentage of unaffiliated Americans has increased in both parties: they now represent 23% of Democrats (down from just 9% in 2006) and 13% of Republicans (up from 4%).
The age of each religious community further complicates the political calculation. White Evangelicals are now the oldest religious group, with a median age of 56. Major whites and black Protestants share the same median age – 50 – with white Catholics approximating Evangelicals at 54.
The youngest religious Americans are Muslims, with a median age of just 33. They are followed by Hindus and Buddhists (both 36), Unaffiliated Americans (38), Hispanic Protestants (39), and Hispanic Catholics (42). American Jews (48) and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (47) form the middle of the pack alongside Jehovah’s Witnesses (49) and Orthodox Christians (42).
The survey noted that most religious groups have seen their median ages increase, with the exception of American Jews and great whites. Jones pointed to the mainline’s median age – which has actually declined since 2013, when he was 52 – as there is growing evidence that mainline churches can accommodate people disaffiliating from other religious groups. , which he says “tend to be younger”.
Meanwhile, Christians of color have grown as a proportion of the population, from 23% in 2006 to 26% in 2020. They are also collectively the largest religious group among Democrats (32%), but represent a large percentage. weaker Republicans. (14%).
The survey was able to extract granular county-level data for religious groups, from a dataset of 460,000 responses that Jones said “provides the most detailed estimates of U.S. religious affiliation since the last collection of religious affiliation data by the US Census Bureau in 1957 “.
This included a list of the most religiously diverse counties in the United States: Brooklyn and Queens in New York took the top two places, followed by Montgomery County, Maryland, and Navajo County, in Arizona.
The least religiously diverse counties were found primarily in Mississippi – namely Noxubee and Panalo counties – with Conecuh Country, Alabama completing the top three.
Alabama was also home to the county with the highest percentage of white evangelicals (Marion County, with 64%), with neighboring Holmes County, Mississippi, claiming the highest percentage of black Protestants (68% ). Pope County, Minnesota was found to have the highest concentration of white mainlines (37%) and Dubuque, Iowa, claimed the same for white Catholics (45%).
Hispanic Protestants were the most represented in Hidalgo County, Texas (21%), with neighboring Zapata County showing the same for Hispanic Catholics (59%). The highest concentration of other Christians – which includes multiracial Christians, Native American Christians, Black Catholics, and Christians of Asian or Pacific Island origin – is found in Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota ( 44%).
Researchers reported the highest concentration of Jewish Americans in Rockland County, New York (18%), Muslim Americans in Queens County (5%), Buddhists in Maui and Hawaii counties in Hawaii (5% each) and Hindus in Middlesex County, New Jersey. (7%).
Americans with no religious affiliation are most concentrated in San Juan County, Washington (49%), and all of the counties with the highest concentration of Latter-day Saints were in Utah, with one exception: County from Madison, Idaho (68%), which placed second in that list.