Educated, female Americans are more likely to identify with religion, according to a new survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) which sampled more than 101,000 U.S. adults between January 2016 and January 2017.

The findings show that overall Christianity still dominates the country’s religious landscape, with roughly 70 percent of American adults identifying as Christian.  However, white Christians, once predominant, now comprise only 43 percent of the population – and that population is aging.  In contrast, 81 percent of Americans identified as white and with a Christian denomination in 1976, evidencing the changing face of American demographics.  For instance, there is now an increased Latino presence within the Catholic Church, especially among the young (52 percent of Catholics under 30 are Hispanic). 

America’s youngest religious groups are now all non-Christian. Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are all far younger than white Christian groups, with 42 percent of Muslims, 36 percent of Hindus and 35 percent of Buddhists under the age of 30.  However, these groups currently make up a small proportion of society.  Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus are each roughly one percent of the population,and Jewish Americans account for two percent of the public.  Roughly one-third (34%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans are under 30.  

Almost every religious group in America has more females than males, with women making up slightly less than two-thirds of groups like Unitarian Universalists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, fifty-five percent of the religiously disaffiliated are male, along with nearly two-thirds of self-identified atheists and agnostics. 

The PRRI data shows, in general, the non-religious states of America are concentrated west of the Mississippi River spanning Arizona to Nebraska to Wyoming. The non-religious were found to come from a range of income, education, and racial backgrounds.  However, they are more likely to be white, middle class and less educated, on average, than many of their faithful peers: Less than one-third have a college or post-graduate degree, placing them below Muslims, white mainline Protestants, white Catholics, Jews, Hindus, and other groups. In 2014, the Pew Research Center found that the share of unaffiliated adults in the U.S. had grown from 16 to 23 percent over a seven-year period.

Yet, not identifying with a religion doesn’t necessarily determine whether or not people believe in God. In fact, according to PRRI, 73 percent of all religiously disaffiliated people do believe in God and many more are agnostic, meaning that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe in God.

If the majority of Americans believe in God, can we assume that the majority are amenable to the idea of a natural law which is present in the heart of each man and he or she discerns by reason? Natural law expresses the dignity of the person, determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties, and provides the necessary basis for the civil law, whether by drawing conclusions from its principles or by additions of a positive and juridical nature.  Believing in a natural law means believing that there is truth to be found (rather than multiple truths existing at the same time) and that we should be able to have the strength to debate ideas to help lead us to truth without being personally offended or excluded, whatever our own current beliefs may be.

For the 70 percent of Americans that identify as Christian there should be even more common ground.  For them, the law of the gospel can be summed up in 'the golden rule': Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; this is the law and the prophets.  Can we better draw from this common ground to reach just solutions for everyone in American society and encourage more freedom of debate about what is truly loving action?

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...