Religiousness in the Unites States is on the decline, mirroring patterns seen across the western world a new study from UCL and Duke University finds.
For many years now the United States seemed to go against the rest of the western world as far as religion is concerned. Many Americans remained dedicated to their faith and houses of worship — even as church attendance rates around the globe dropped.
A new study has now found a slow, steady drop in the number of Americans who regularly go to church, believe in God or claim religious affiliations. It also suggests that this decline is driven by inter-generational differences.
“None of these declines is happening fast, but the signs are now unmistakable,” said David Voas, a social scientist with UCL and co-author of the study.
“It has become clear that American religiosity has been declining for decades, and the decline is driven by the same dynamic — generational differences — that has driven religious decline across the developed world.”
The study analyzed data obtained from the General Social Survey which is conducted every two years. This information was compared to surveys of similar scope from Canada, New Zealand, the UK and Australia. Across the globe, people have slowly become less religious over time, but in the US the decline has been so incremental that researchers didn’t have enough data to know they’re looking at a trend, says Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology, divinity and religion and co-author to the study.
Religiousness as a whole was surveyed, without drawing lines between religions or religious denominations. They found that while 94 percent of Americans born before 1935 claim a religious affiliation, that number drops to 71 percent for those born after 1975. Similarly, 68 percent of Americans aged 65 and older said they believed God exists, but just 45 percent of those aged 18-30, hold the same belief. As for church attendance, 41 percent of people 70 and older said they participate in services at least once a month, compared to just 18 percent of people 60 and younger.
“If you look at the trajectory, and the generational dynamic that is producing the trajectory, we may not be an exception after all,” Chaves added.