Survey Shows Number of U.S. Christians Falling, Atheists Rising

A new survey reveals that the number of Americans who identify as Christian has dropped dramatically over the last two decades, and those who do call themselves Christians describe their religious practice in broad terms like "nondemominational" or "evangelical" rather than as followers of more established denominations.

According to a national survey of more than 50,000 people carried out by researchers at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., only 76 percent of the population now identifies as Christian, down from 86 percent in 1990. Among the survey's most important findings is that the Protestant church, including Methodists and Lutherans, appear to be experiencing drastic declines in membership, dropping almost ten percent in the last twenty years.

In fact, the category that saw the largest increase in identification were those who claimed to have "no" religion, a group which now comprises 15 percent of the U.s. population.

Other important findings:

* Baptists, who constitute the largest non-Catholic Christian tradition, have increased their numbers by two million since 2001, but continue to decline as a proportion of the population.

* Mormons have increased in numbers enough to hold their own proportionally, at 1.4 percent of the population.

* The Muslim proportion of the population continues to grow, from .3 percent in 1990 to .5 percent in 2001 to .6 percent in 2008.

* The number of adherents of Eastern Religions, which more than doubled in the 1990s, has declined slightly, from just over two million to just under. Asian Americans are substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity than other racial or ethnic groups.

* Those who identify religiously as Jews continue to decline numerically, from 3.1 million in 1990 to 2.8 million in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2008—1.2 percent of the population. Defined to include those who identify as Jews by ethnicity alone, the American Jewish population has remained stable over the past two decades.

* Only 1.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic. But based on stated beliefs, 12 percent are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unsure), while 12 percent are deistic (believe in a higher power but not a personal God). The number of outright atheists has nearly doubled since 2001, from 900,000 to 1.6 million. Twenty-seven percent of Americans do not expect a religious funeral at their death.

* Adherents of New Religious movements, including Wiccans and self-described pagans, have grown faster this decade than in the 1990s.

Read the Opposing Views debate, "Is There a God?"



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