A wide-ranging study on American religious life has found that the percentage of Christians has declined and more people say they have no religion at all.
Fifteen per cent of respondents said they had no religion, an increase from 14.2 per cent in 2001 and 8.2 per cent in 1990, according to the American Religious Identification Survey.
The study found that the numbers of Americans with no religion rose in every State. “No other religious bloc has kept such a pace in every State,” its authors said.
In the U.S. Northeast, self-identified Catholics made up 36 per cent of adults last year, down from 43 per cent in 1990. At the same time, however, Catholics grew to about one-third of the adult population in California and Texas, and one-quarter of Floridians, largely owing to Latino immigration.
Nationally, Catholics remain the largest religious group, with 57 million people saying they belong to the church. The tradition gained 11 million followers since 1990, but its share of the population fell by about a percentage point to 25 per cent.
Christians who are not Catholic also are a declining segment of the country.
In 2008, Christians comprised 76 per cent of U.S. adults, compared to about 77 per cent in 2001 and about 86 per cent in 1990. Researchers said the dwindling ranks of mainline Protestants, including Methodists, Lutherans and Episcopalians, largely explains the shift.
Over the last seven years, mainline Protestants dropped from just over 17 per cent to 12.9 per cent of the population.
The report from the Programme on Public Values at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, surveyed 54,461 adults in English or Spanish from February through November 2008. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 0.5 percentage points.
The findings are part of a series of studies on American religion by the programme that will later look more closely at reasons behind the trends.
The survey, released on Monday, found traditional organised religion playing less of a role. Thirty per cent of married couples did not have a religious wedding ceremony and 27 per cent of respondents said they did not want a religious funeral.
About 12 per cent of Americans believe in some sort of a higher power but not the personal God who is at the core of monotheistic faiths. Since 1990, a slightly greater share of respondents — 1.2 per cent — said they were part of new religious movements, including Scientology and Wicca.
The study found signs of a growing influence of churches that either do not belong to a denomination or play down their membership in a religious group.
Respondents who called themselves “non-denominational Christian” grew from 0.1 per cent in 1990 to 3.5 per cent last year. Congregations that most often use the term are mega-churches that are considered “seeker sensitive.”
They use rock style music and less structured prayers to attract people who do not usually attend church. Researchers also found a small increase in those who prefer being called evangelical or born-again, rather than claim membership in a denomination.
Evangelical or born-again Americans make up 34 per cent of all adults and 45 per cent of all Christians and Catholics.
Researchers found that 18 per cent of Catholics consider themselves born-again or evangelical.
Nearly 39 per cent of mainline Protestants prefer those labels. Many mainline Protestant groups are, however, riven by conflict over how they should interpret what the Bible says about gay relationships, salvation and other issues.
The percentage of Pentecostal believers remained mostly steady since 1990 at 3.5 per cent, a surprising finding considering the dramatic spread of the tradition worldwide. Pentecostals are known for a spirited form of Christianity that includes speaking in tongues and a belief in modern-day miracles.