Summary and Keywords
After years of exceptionally high levels of religious adherence and identity, the latter part of the 20th century saw the start of a trend: increasing numbers of Americans reported they had no religious affiliation when asked by pollsters. From the start of polling on religious beliefs and identity in the mid-20th century, Americans were unlikely to report they had “none” when asked to name their religious identity. National surveys in the 1970s and 1980s found fewer than one-in-ten American adults reported they had no religious affiliation. After decades of reported religious belief levels and religious identity patterns that remained robust, America is experiencing a decline in religiosity in the 21st century. Research in 2016 found that nearly one-quarter of those surveyed identified as “atheist,” “agnostic,” or “nothing in particular,” nearly triple the 9% reporting the same during the General Social Survey in 1992. Those without a religious identification are now the second largest “religious” group in America
What accounts for the observed changes in American’s religious affiliation responses over time? Social researchers have identified more than one possible source of change. One could be changing social forces; a second source of variation might come from changes in which people, how people, and why people answer religious affiliation questions over time; and third, the factors people say were the source of change in their religious affiliation.
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