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PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute)—a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy—has released their report on the 2016 American Values Atlas (AVA), which was the single largest survey of American religious and denominational identity ever conducted.

The AVA draws upon data from more than 100,000 bilingual telephone interviews conducted among a random sample of Americans in 2016, with 40,000 interviews on political issue areas.

Because of its large sample size, the AVA allows analysis of specific census regions, all 50 states, and even 30 major metropolitan areas, while providing a rare portrait of smaller religious communities and ethnic groups.

The following is drawn from their executive summary.


1. White Christians now account for fewer than half of the public.

  • Today, only 43% of Americans identify as white and Christian, and only 30% as white and Protestant.
  • In 1976, roughly eight in ten (81%) Americans identified as white and identified with a Christian denomination, and a majority (55%) were white Protestants.

2. White evangelical Protestants are in decline—along with white mainline Protestants and white Catholics

  • White evangelical Protestants were once thought to be bucking a longer trend, but over the past decade their numbers have dropped substantially.
  • Fewer than one in five (17%) Americans are white evangelical Protestant, but they accounted for nearly one-quarter (23%) in 2006.
  • Over the same period, white Catholics dropped five percentage points from 16% to 11%, as have white mainline Protestants, from 18% to 13%.

3. Non-Christian religious groups are growing, but they still represent less than one in ten Americans combined.

  • Jewish Americans constitute 2% of the public while Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus each constitute only 1% of the public.
  • All other non-Christian religions constitute an additional 1%.

4. America’s youngest religious groups are all non-Christian. 

  • Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are all far younger than white Christian groups.
  • At least one-third of Muslims (42%), Hindus (36%), and Buddhists (35%) are under the age of 30. Roughly one-third (34%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans are also under 30.
  • In contrast, white Christian groups are aging. Slightly more than one in ten white Catholics (11%), white evangelical Protestants (11%), and white mainline Protestants (14%) are under 30.
  • Approximately six in ten white evangelical Protestants (62%), white Catholics (62%), and white mainline Protestants (59%) are at least 50 years old.

5. The Catholic Church is experiencing an ethnic transformation. 

  • Twenty-five years ago, nearly nine in ten (87%) Catholics were white, non-Hispanic, compared to 55% today.
  • Fewer than four in ten (36%) Catholics under the age of 30 are white, non-Hispanic; 52% are Hispanic.

6. Atheists and agnostics account for a minority of all religiously unaffiliated. Most are secular. 

  • Atheists and agnostics account for only about one-quarter (27%) of all religiously unaffiliated Americans.
  • Nearly six in ten (58%) religiously unaffiliated Americans identify as secular, someone who is not religious; 16% of religiously unaffiliated Americans nonetheless report that they identify as a “religious person.”

7. There are 20 states in which no religious group comprises a greater share of residents than the religiously unaffiliated

  • These states tend to be more concentrated in the Western U.S., although they include a couple of New England states, as well.
  • More than four in ten (41%) residents of Vermont and approximately one-third of Americans in Oregon (36%), Washington (35%), Hawaii (34%), Colorado (33%), and New Hampshire (33%) are religiously unaffiliated.

8. No state is less religiously diverse than Mississippi

  • The state is heavily Protestant and dominated by a single denomination: Baptist.
  • Six in ten (60%) Protestants in Mississippi are Baptist.
  • No state has a greater degree of religious diversity than New York. 

9. The cultural center of the Catholic Church is shifting south. 

  • The Northeast is no longer the epicenter of American Catholicism—although at 41% Catholic, Rhode Island remains the most Catholic state in the country.
  • Immigration from predominantly Catholic countries in Latin America means new Catholic populations are settling in the Southwest.
  • In 1972, roughly seven in ten Catholics lived in either the Northeast (41%) or the Midwest (28%).
  • Only about one-third of Catholics lived in the South (13%) or West (18%). Today, a majority of Catholics now reside in the South (29%) or West (25%).
  • Currently, only about one-quarter (26%) of the U.S. Catholic population lives in the Northeast, and 20% live in the Midwest.

10. Jews, Hindus, and Unitarian-Universalists stand out as the most educated groups in the American religious landscape. 

  • More than one-third of Jews (34%), Hindus (38%), and Unitarian-Universalists (43%) hold post-graduate degrees.
  • Notably, Muslims are significantly more likely than white evangelical Protestants to have at least a four-year college degree (33% vs. 25%, respectively).

11. Asian or Pacific-Islander Americans have a significantly different religious profile than other racial or ethnic groups.

  • There are as many Asian or Pacific-Islander Americans affiliated with non-Christian religions as with Christian religious groups.
  • And one-third (34%) are religiously unaffiliated.

12. Nearly half of LGBT Americans are religiously unaffiliated.

  • Nearly half (46%) of Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are religiously unaffiliated.
  • This is roughly twice the number of Americans overall (24%) who are religiously unaffiliated.

13. White Christians have become a minority in the Democratic Party.

  • Fewer than one in three (29%) Democrats today are white Christian, compared to half (50%) one decade earlier.
  • Only 14% of young Democrats (age 18 to 29) identify as white Christian.
  • Forty percent identify as religiously unaffiliated.

14. White evangelical Protestants remain the dominant religious force in the GOP.

  • More than one-third (35%) of all Republicans identify as white evangelical Protestant, a proportion that has remained roughly stable over the past decade.
  • Roughly three-quarters (73%) of Republicans belong to a white Christian religious group.

To read more details on each of these points, go here.

Or use their interactive map to interact with specific questions that interest you.


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3 thoughts on “The Largest Survey Ever Conducted of American Religious and Denominational Identity: 14 Major Findings from a Landmark Study”

  1. Arminian says:

    I read something that said that this new research undermines the common thought that liberal churches have been in decline while conservative churches have been growing. But does it really? “White evangelical” does not equate to the only conservative churches. What about other evangelicals? It really seems like liberal churches are dying and conservative ones are growing. Christians may be declining numerically in America, but that does not mean that conservative churches are not growing. For example, even if the evangelical church is declining numerically in a proportionate way relative to the population of America, it is entirely possible that the evangelical church itself has still grown in number while liberal churches have declined in number. Any analysis of what this means for truly evangelical (= theologically conservative/Bible believing) churches?

  2. Doug says:

    Consider, the major argument for religious freedom back in the day was that the church suffers most under state support. Disestablishment and religious freedom was contrasted as providing fertile soil for the church. Religious polls continue to expose this fallacy.

  3. Lee says:

    It would be nice to see consistent treatment of race across all categories. Either split each religious category by each race (e.g., Hispanic Evangelical Protestant, Hispanic Mainline Protestant, Hispanic Catholic — I know people in each of these categories) or get race out of the denominational summary and address it separately.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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