Survey: One Quarter of Americans Could Claim 'No Religion' in 20 Years

A survey finds that 'Religious nones' could make up a quarter of the country in 20 years.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

If current trends continue, a quarter of Americans are likely to claim "no religion" in 20 years, according to a survey out today by Trinity College. Americans who identify with no religious tradition currently comprise 15 percent of the country, representing the fastest growing segment of the national religious landscape.

While the numbers portend a dramatic change for the American religious scene—"religious nones" accounted for just 8 percent of the population in 1990—the United States is not poised to adopt the anti-religious posture of much of secularized Europe.

That's because American religious nones tend to be religious skeptics as opposed to outright atheists. Fewer than 10 percent of those identifying with no religious tradition call themselves atheists or hold atheistic beliefs, according to the new study.

"American nones are kind of agnostic and deistic, so it's a very American kind of skepticism," says Barry Kosmin, director of Trinity's Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. "It's a kind of religious indifference that's not hostile to religion the way they are in France. Franklin and Jefferson would have recognized these people."

The new study found that, in addition to seeing relatively strong retention numbers, American nones are quickly gaining new members. "Twenty-two percent of the youngest cohort of adults self-identify as nones and they will become tomorrow's parents," according to the report. "If current trends continue and cohorts of non-religious young people replace older religious people, the likely outcome is that in two decades the nones could account for around one-quarter of the American population."

Read the full report here.

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