A vibrant, but different, future for religion in the U.S.

Research for my new book “God Is Alive and Well: The Future of Religion in America” documents the degree to … Continued

Research for my new book “God Is Alive and Well: The Future of Religion in America” documents the degree to which religion retains a strong presence in the U.S. today, at least as far as we can tell from Americans’ responses to survey questions. More than nine in 10 Americans believe in God. Seven in 10 are at least “moderately” religious based on self-reports of church attendance and importance of religion. Six in 10 say that religion is important in their daily lives, and 52 percent attend church at least monthly. More than eight in 10 identify with a religious faith. Religion remains a very strong predictor of political orientation and candidate choice in the political arena and is a substantial driver of position on many policy issues. Almost half of the reasons that Americans who oppose same-sex marriage give for their stance, for example, have a religious or biblical basis.

All of this apparently comes as a revelation to some. A young male television interviewer in New York City said to me during a recent interview that very few of his friends turned to religion for answers to life’s problems. This is not an unexpected viewpoint given his demographic and geographic position. Being young and male and living in New York City correlates with significantly lower probabilities of being religious than, for example, being older and female and living in Mississippi.

The potential religious energy in the U.S. in fact translates into kinetic energy quite disproportionately across population segments. Women are more religious than men, older Americans are more religious than younger Americans, blacks and Hispanics are more religious than whites, Mormons are more religious than Jews, Alabamans are more religious than Vermonters, married Americans are more religious than those who are single or living in domestic partnerships, Americans with children are more religious than those of the same age without children, and Republicans are more religious than Democrats. These are highly regular and reproducible patterns.

These patterns are not standing still, however. America’s older population is going to double in size over the next 20 years. If history reproduces itself, these aging baby boomers are going to become more religious as they grow older, tilting America in a more religious direction. The Hispanic population is growing, affecting both religiousness overall and the continuing strength of the Catholic Church. Americans have been moving to states with populations that are more religious than average, which could affect the religion of those migrating into those states. Democrats — heretofore “missing in action” on the religious front — may gear up to compete for highly religious voters rather than abandoning them to the GOP. On the other hand, the nation’s fertility rate is down, which could stall the natural religious progression of the younger generation as it moves into its 30s and 40s.

Americans, particularly the baby boom generation, will almost certainly be looking for new ways to maintain or improve their wellbeing and health in the years ahead. An increased recognition of the well-documented relationship between religion and favorable health and wellbeing outcomes could augur an increased interest in religion for its personal value.

One of the signature characteristics of the highly differentiated American religious landscape is its ability to morph and change with the times — something that distinguishes it from religion in Europe. We are already seeing a significant increase in “unbranded” religion in America. An increased percentage of Americans don’t have a specific religious identity, and more Americans identify as “Christian” rather than with a specific Protestant denomination. These changes have been accompanied by a significant increase in the number of nondenominational churches across the country, while mainline Protestant denominations fade in importance.

It is increasingly likely that other changes in the practice of religion and spirituality among Americans will spring up in the years ahead. These changes don’t mean that religion as a whole is becoming less relevant, only different. Religion remains a fundamentally potent and prevalent force in American society today — and one that is likely to remain so in the years ahead.


Frank Newport is editor-in-chief of Gallup and immediate past president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

Read More Articles

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

noplaceonearth
An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

Pile_of_trash_2
Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

shutterstock_148333673
Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

shutterstock_53190298
Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

shutterstock_186686495
The End of Surveillance for New York Muslims — For Now

How American Muslims modeled the right response to systematic injustice.

sunset-hair
From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.