Survey: 7 in 10 Americans Are Very or Moderately Religious

The Story: A new survey finds that 69 percent of American adults are very or moderately religious, based on self-reports of the importance of religion in their daily lives and attendance at religious services.

The Background: Based on the results, the survey finds that the United States remains a largely Christian nation, although one in which an increasing percentage of adults say that they don’t have a formal religious identity.

However, Gallup predicts that religion may be set to become increasingly important to Americans:

Although it is always difficult to predict the future, certain trends in the age composition of the American public suggest that religion may become increasingly important in the years to come. This is mostly the result of the fact that the number of Americans who are 65 and older will essentially double over the next 20 years, dramatically increasing the number of older Americans. As long as these aging baby boomers become more religious as they age—following the path of their elders—the average religiousness in the population will go up.

The report is based on more than 320,000 interviews conducted by Gallup between January 2 and November 30, 2012. Gallup asked, “Is religion an important part of your daily life” and, “How often do you attend church, synagogue, or mosque—at least once a week, almost every week, about once a month, seldom, or never?”

The Takeaways: Some of the more interesting findings from the survey include:

• Importance of religion increases with age. Americans are least religious at age 23 and most religious at age 80.

• Women are significantly more religious than men, at all ages and within all race and ethnic groups.

• Blacks are more religious than any other race or ethnic group in America, while Jews are the least religious. Mormons are the most religious group in America.

• Religiousness is highest in Southern states (Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana) and lowest in states located in the two northern corners of the country (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska).

• Upscale Americans are less religious than those with lower levels of education and income, but better-off Americans attend religious services just as often.

• Republicans are significantly more likely to say that religion is important in their daily lives and more likely to attend religious services regularly than either independents or Democrats.

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  • Darren Blair

    If they’re smart, they’ll look at doing follow-up surveys asking *why* religion becomes important with age, why certain faith traditions produce more “faithful”, why certain states rate higher than others, and otherwise addressing the numerous issues raised by the survey here.

    Yes, folks, I had a statistics class for my major and a research & survey class for my minor back when I did my undergrad. I then had to take a course on research design & writing proposals when I did my grad work.

    For surveys like the one in the article, you’re pretty much obligated to follow up on the gathered data, usually with additional surveys.

  • Brett

    Mr. Carter (or Joe- whichever you prefer),
    I’m not sure if you simply copied the bullets from the original website or not, but if you paraphrased the findings I had a question about the second to last bullet stating the following:

    “Upscale Americans are less religious than those with lower levels of education and income, but better-off Americans attend religious services just as often.”

    Could you give some sort of differentiation by definition or description between “Upscale Americans” and “better-off Americans” or are they simply synonyms? If they are synonyms, does that mean that they have the same attendance with less sincere devotion?

    Thanks for helping me understand this,


    • Joe Carter

      Although I paraphrased most of the others, I left that one as Gallup wrote it since it wasn’t clear what they meant. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what they mean by “upscale” and “better off”, though I assume “upscale = wealthy” and “better-off = middle class.”

  • K

    so… 80 year-old black women are the most religious and 23 year-old Jewish men are the least religious? Ok. Seems to be my experience.

    All joking aside, I wonder, given the limited scope of the survey (less than a year), how credible is the prediction that religion might become more important to many Americans?

    Consider that the basis of the prediction is the claim that the importance of religion increases with age. However, the survey doesn’t poll individual people at different points in their lives; it only polls people of differing ages. So the opposite conclusion could be drawn from the data: that religion is likely to become LESS important to Americans, as the older baby-boomers gradually die (I know, morbid), and are replaced by those for whom religion was less important (those who are 23 at the time of the survey will be 43 and 63 and 83 eventually).

    The limited scope of the survey makes this latter prediction more likely, unless the Gallup poll is drawing on additional data that represents a changing importance of religious as individual people age. Otherwise, the claim doesn’t hold. Mostly these conclusions are coming from a particular book.

    The most interesting part of the survey is that Americans are moving to typically more religious states (meaning that those states could become less religious in coming decades). Might that affect which states are “Red” and “Blue” in coming elections?

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