A new study reveals that the number of “nones” – those who are not affiliated with any religion – continues to rise in the United States.
Eastern Illinois University professor Ryan P. Burge explained on Religion in Public that self-identified nones have risen from 22.2% of Americans in 2008 to 29.5% in 2018, making them the largest religious group in the country. Burge caveats the results, however, sharing that “it’s way more complicated than that.”
Earlier this year, a General Social Survey was released indicating the change in size of religious groups. Burge, who is also a Baptist pastor, tweeted a graph of the changes and the information went viral.
He decided to run the same numbers through a different survey, the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, which has a larger sample size and thus creates a smaller margin of error and shows state-wide changes.
What he found was consistent with the General Social Survey. Nones are still on the rise, but he also broke down each state to see changes in each of them, revealing that decreases in religion by state are much more modest.
Catholics lost three percentage points, but Burge points out that unless “those losses are sustained for another few survey cycles, then we can say with some certainty that Catholics are on the downward swing.” Mainline churches and evangelicals only saw a small decline as well.
Nonetheless, Catholic decline was across a majority of the states. Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi also lost evangelical followers. Georgia’s evangelical believers were down 2.7% while nones increased to 10.5%. And, in South Carolina, evangelicals dipped to 3.3% and nones up to 8.2%.
Nones is certainly the fastest-growing group with 46 states seeing an increase. Evangelicals grew in Alaska, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Vermont saw a growth in Mainliners and D.C. with Catholics.
The highest growth of nones was in Hawaii with 22.9% and 19.5% in Wisconsin. The only state in which nones declined was South Dakota with a -0.3%.
Burge is quick to mention, however, that religious changes are slow. “If you’re looking for dramatic shifts, religious demography should not be your choice of careers,” he said. Nonetheless, since 1993, nones have consistently increased by over one half a percentage each year.
“The one question that I am often asked that I can’t answer is: ‘How large will the nones get?’ I think that they will plateau. I don’t think that’s in five years or fifteen years, but even if they stopped growing this year, it will still be the most dramatic unbroken streak of growth we have seen in five decades,” he said. “And the United States will be altered forever, both socially and politically, because of it.”
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