New Study Says Religion Is Declining in Importance for Many Americans, Especially for Millennials

Fewer than half of Americans consider religion to be an “extremely” or “very” important part of their identity, according to a new study.

The American Family Survey, an annual national survey conducted by the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, found that just 43% of Americans viewed religion as a core component of their identity in 2018.

Below are six key findings about religion in the national study, which featured 3,000 respondents and had a margin of error of ±1.9%.

1. Nones are now 35% of the population.

Source: The American Family Survey, 2015–2018.

The number of Americans who identify as atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular—often lumped together under the umbrella term of “nones”—is now 35%. That’s actually not a huge increase over last year, though, when the figure was 34%.

“Though the change from year to year is small, there is a clear upward trend,” said Chris Karpowitz, professor of political science at BYU and co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

Catholics dipped down two percentage points, from 21% in 2017 to 19% this year.

2. But among younger Americans, Nones are inching close to half.

Source: The American Family Survey, 2015–2018.

For Millennials and even GenXers, the most common religion is no religion at all. The Nones claim 44% of the 18–29 age group, and nearly that (43%) among those who are 30–44.

This is more than twice their market share among Americans older than 65, just 21% of whom say they are atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular. However, even that 21% is a five-point rise from where the over-65 group was in 2015, when just 16% identified themselves this way.

3. Religion is less important than family when people explain what creates their identity.

Source: The American Family Survey, 2018.

Among Americans as a whole, only 43% said religion was “extremely” or “very” important to their identity. Instead, people define their identity in terms of family: 70% said that being a spouse was important to their personal identity, while 71% cited being a parent.

“Religion is more important than race, political party, community, or job, but it’s less important than their family identities,” summarized Karpowitz.

There were exceptions to the general rule among African American and Hispanic respondents, who were more likely than whites to rank marriage, parenthood, and religion very highly.

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Source: Religion News Service