The new Pew Forum study is getting a lot of publicity for its finding that one American in five now responds “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. This is up from around 15 percent in 2007. The future of organized religion in the United States may look even bleaker because almost a third of individuals under 30 can be classified as “nones.”
Numerous press reports have covered the study so I’m not going to describe it in detail. I encourage you to read the summary or—if you are an unreconstructed data geek like me—download the entire report.
There were a couple of interesting findings buried in the demographic data. The first was that the growth in “nones” was heavily concentrated among the white population. The share of Hispanics who are “nones” did not change at all between 2007 and 2012.
A second finding that was interesting was the difference between unmarried and married individuals. The share of married individuals who were “nones” did not change at all between 2007 and 2012, while the share of unmarried individuals who did increased by 4 percentage points. This means that unmarried individuals accounted for virtually all the increase in the “nones” over the last five years.
If marriage has a “protective” effect on religious practice, then one of the things that may be driving decline in religious practice is the decline in marriage. Of course, the reverse may also be true in the sense that the religiously unaffiliated may be less likely to take the step of getting married. If you read the full report, you’ll find that the “nones” cohabit at a slightly higher rate than those affiliated with a religious tradition.
Since we’ve been talking about the New Evangelization this week, this data seems to confirm that the window between leaving home and getting married is the space where the churches lose many of their adherents. I’ll be interested to see of any of the interventions at the Synod discuss this particular challenge.