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Major new survey finds decline in US Catholic population, as adults leave Church

May 12, 2015

The number of Americans who are not affiliated with any religious group has jumped in recent years, while the number of Christians has declined, a major new survey shows.

In a massive survey of 35,000 Americans, the Pew Research Center found that 71% identified themselves as Christians. That number was dramatically down 2007, when a similar poll found 78% were Christians.

In the 2007 survey, Pew found 16% of respondents were not affiliated with any church. In the new study, conducted in 2014, that figure was 23%.

The Pew survey showed a decline in the US Catholic population, from 53 million to 51 million. But Pew analysts said that the actual decline in Catholic population may have been more modest than the survey figures indicated, and other experts told the Wall Street Journal that their own studies have not shown any decrease in the overall Catholic population.

While the absolute number of Catholics may not have declined significantly, there is general agreement that the proportion of Catholics in the US population has dropped. The Pew survey put the Catholic population at 24% of the US total in 2007, and 21% in 2014. Mainline Protestant denominations experienced a similar decline, from 18% to 15% of the American population.

The number of religiously unaffiliated Americans is now greater than the number of American Catholics, according to the Pew figures. The survey showed the unaffiliated Americans as the country’s second-largest religious bloc, trailing only evangelical Protestants, who accounted for 25% of the population.

However, the Pew survey found that nearly one-third of the American population (32%) had been raised Catholic. The decline in the Catholic figures is due to the fact that 41% of those who were raised as Catholics no longer report an affiliation with the Church.

Nearly 13% of the 35,000 adults interviewed for the Pew study said that they had left the Catholic Church, entering another religious denomination or joining the ranks of those who are unaffiliated. By contrast, just 2% of the adults were converts to Catholicism.


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  • Posted by: Jason C. - May. 12, 2015 5:14 PM ET USA

    Nothing to see here, folks. Keep moving. The American Catholic Church is the garden of the New Springtime. Hey, how about that climate change--or immigration?