Story at a glance
- In the United States, fewer individuals are identifying as Christian, due to a variety of reasons.
- To better understand what the nation’s religious landscape may look like in 2070, researchers assessed four different models based on survey responses and datasets.
- Each of the models documented a steady decrease in those identifying as Christian and an increase in non-religiously affiliated individuals.
A decline in the number of Americans who identify as religious and an increase in those who change religions means Christians may be on track to become a minority population in the United States by 2070.
That’s according to the authors of a new Pew Research Center report, which assessed several hypothetical scenarios to model how religion might change over the next 50 years.
The 1990s saw a growing trend of Americans leaving Christianty — the dominant religion in the country — to identify as atheist, agnostic or to have no religious affiliations, while the continuation of this trend could lead to notable shifts in the religious landscape, authors wrote.
Using mathematical projections based on surveys and datasets, researchers found that regardless of whether religious switching continues at current rates, speeds up, or stops, Christians of all ages are expected to shrink from 64 percent of the population to between 54 percent and 35 percent of Americans by 2070.
Around 30 percent of the U.S. population was religiously unaffiliated in 2020, and that total could grow to between 34 percent and 52 percent in 2070.
Researchers defined religious switching, or conversion, as individuals changing the religion that they were raised in in childhood, to their current religion as an adult. Rates were based on a 2019 Pew survey of 15,000 adults, and typically reflected those converting between the ages 15 and 29.
In the first scenario, data show that if no American changed their religion in 2020 and does not change at any point thereafter, by 2070, 54 percent of individuals will identify as Christian. But this scenario is very unlikely.
If current switching rates remain consistent, in 2070, 46 percent of Americans will identify as Christian.
Rising rates of disaffiliation with certain limits would lead to 39 percent of Americans identifying as Christians by 2070, while rising rates without limits put that total at 35 percent.
However, the scenarios are not the only possibilities, and they are not meant as predictions of what will happen, authors caution.
“All the projections start from the current religious composition of the U.S. population, taking account of religious differences by age and sex. Then, they factor in birth rates and migration patterns.”
Data also suggest that if in each new generation more Christians switch religions before the age of 30, while less unaffiliated individuals convert to Christianity, by 2070 those with no religious affiliation will become the majority in the United States.
“While the scenarios in this report vary in the extent of religious disaffiliation they project, they all show Christians continuing to shrink as a share of the U.S. population,” researchers said. “At the same time, the unaffiliated are projected to grow under all four scenarios.”
Meanwhile, growth of other religions including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddism which accounted for around six percent of the populaiton in 2020, is likely to depend on the future of migration patterns.
External events like war and the climate crisis could all factor into future rates, however, and none of the models included in the study will unfold exactly as projected.
Overall, authors concluded, rates of religious switching are likely to have the biggest impact on the future landscape compared with other factors like fertility rates or how many parents pass their religion to children.