Christians could become a minority in the U.S. by 2070, when most Americans would likely not have a religious affiliation, according to a Pew Research Center study.
If current “religious switching” trends continue, as many as 52% of Americans will likely be non-religious and 35% will likely be Christian in 48 years, the Pew Research group said Tuesday.
Researchers described religious switching as changing one’s identity from one faith to another or to none, and stressed that their findings represent “only possibilities” for religious change in America, not “predictions of what will happen.”
Young adults are most likely to switch, although increasing numbers of Americans over 30 years old also are likely to disaffiliate from Christianity and claim no faith, according to the Pew study, titled “Modeling the Future of Religion in America.”
“In terms of people considering themselves people of faith or not, that is changing, and we’re becoming a less religious country, a less Christian country,” Peter Wehner, a former White House staffer who is now a vice president and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said of Pew’s findings.
According to Pew, 64% of Americans identified themselves as Christian in 2020 and 30% as “nones,” people who are religiously unaffiliated. The remaining 6% identified as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist.
Depending on the velocity of religious switching, the percentage of Christians in the U.S. will fall between 54% and 35% as the percentage of nones rises to between 34% and 53% by 2070, the Pew report says.
Researchers say “switching” is defined as those who answered questions in a 2019 survey that asked, “In what religion, if any, were you raised?” and “What is your present religion, if any?” Correlating those answers with responses from Pew’s larger General Social Survey allowed researchers to correlate “long-term cohort trends” among those who switch.
“Of course, it is possible that events outside the study’s model — such as war, economic depression, climate crisis, changing immigration patterns or religious innovations — could reverse current religious switching trends, leading to a revival of Christianity in the United States,” the report states. “But there are no current switching patterns in the U.S. that can be factored into the mathematical models to project such a result.”
Breaking down its projections, Pew found that scenarios of either no one changing religion or unlimited disaffiliations will produce the greatest drop in Christian affiliation and in the “unlimited” category, the highest percentage of “nones.”
Trends for the 6% identified as adherents of non-Christian religions were not identified in the report. Pew said that “less reliable” data on switching and intergenerational transmission of faith — the passing of religion from parents to children — came from its research with these groups due to small sample sizes.
In the early 1990s, “about 90% of Americans identified as Christians” but a “steadily shrinking share” of those raised as Christians have retained their faith into adulthood, Pew said. By contrast, a growing number of Americans say they’ve shed their early identity, noted by the 2020 survey.