For The First Time Ever, ‘No Religion’ Is Now The Top Religious Affiliation In America

A man sits in a church pew.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The largest share of Americans has no specific religious affiliation for the first time ever, a new analysis shows.

The long-running General Social Survey looks at Americans’ religious affiliations and has shown a steady trend away from organized religions. As ABC 15 reported, the latest results piqued the interest of political scientist Ron Burge, a professor at Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist professor.

Burge noted that the largest share of Americans in the survey — 23.1 percent in total — say they have no religion. That is followed by Catholics at 23 percent and evangelical Christians at 22.5 percent. While the report noted that the margin of error for the poll means all three are actually in a statistical tie, it is the first time that the number of “no religion” Americans was highest among respondents.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that all of these Americans have abandoned religion, the report noted. Those with “no religion” include both atheists and agnostics as well as people who believe in God but do not adhere to any organized religion.

Either way, the result is unprecedented.

“It is the first time we have seen this. The same questions have been asked for 44 years,” Burge said.

Previous polls have shown that young people are moving away from religion at unprecedented rates. The Star Tribune explored in a 2018 report the trend away from church, which is taking place both in Minnesota — where the paper is based — and across the United States.

The report cited a Pew Research poll showing that 36 percent of younger millennials identify as either atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” That is up dramatically from past generations, with 23 percent of Generation X listing no religious affiliation and 17 percent of Baby Boomers doing the same.

As the report noted, the easy access to information about other faiths and about atheism is in large part fueling the trend.

“This disconnect between core Christian teachings and real life was cited frequently in interviews with more than 30 Minnesotans who have left the church,” the report noted.

“The church rituals fell flat, they said. And many reported taking voyages of spiritual discovery on their own, aided by friends, YouTube and podcasts.”

The trend has been much the same across the globe. National Geographic noted in a 2016 report that “no religion” is listed among the top religious affiliations both for North America and Europe. A number of countries are expected to reach majority secular populations, including France and New Zealand.