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America is becoming less Christian, and US Christianity is becoming less white


Christianity is on the decline in America among just about every demographic you can think of: young adults, older adults, white and black Americans, Latinos, men, women, and people with and without a high school education.

But the new Pew demographic study with those findings has another interesting twist: the Christians who remain are more diverse than ever.

The drop-off in Christianity

The Pew Research Center surveyed 35,000 Americans and found that the number of adults who call themselves Christian has dropped 8 percentage points in just seven years.

In 2007, it was 78.4 percent — and when the latest survey was completed in 2014, it fell to 70.6 percent. Meanwhile, the people who didn't claim a religion, calling themselves atheist, agnostic, or "nothing in particular," leaped 16.1 percent to 22.8 percent — about 6 points.

Pew Research Center

(Pew Research Center)

According to Pew, evangelicals took a small hit, but most of the decrease affected mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants and Catholics.

The survey makes clear that the drop-off is a strictly Christian phenomenon. The percentage of Americans affiliated with other faiths has actually increased 1.2 points, from 4.7 percent  in 2007 to 5.9 percent in 2014. Muslims and Hindus got credit for a lot of this growth.

Pew Research Center

(Pew Research Center)

But a closer look revealed that not every Christian denomination saw decreases. What Pew called the "historically black Protestant tradition" — a group that includes the National Baptist Convention, the Church of God in Christ, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Progressive Baptist Convention, and others — held firm with about 16 million adult members.

What's left: a more racially and ethnically diverse group

Pew Research Center

(Pew Research Center)

The Christian population in America isn't just declining — it's changing. The people who still identify as Christian are more diverse than ever.

Non-Hispanic whites make up a smaller percentage of all the main Christian groups (evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, and Catholics ) than they did at the time of the 2007 survey. Meanwhile, Hispanics are better represented in each group and are mostly responsible for the increases in ethnic minority representation among them. Minorities now make up 41 percent of Catholics, 24 percent of evangelical Protestants, and 14 percent of mainline Protestants.

Intermarriage means there's also more religious diversity within households

Pew also found a leap in intermarriage between people of different religions, with 39 percent of Americans who've tied the knot since 2010 reporting that they are in religiously mixed marriages. Before 1960, that number was only 19 percent.

Pew researchers attribute a lot of this increase to the growth of the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans (yes, it still counts as "religious intermarriage" if one person doesn't have a religion). Almost 1 in 5 of the survey respondents who got married since 2010 said either they or their spouse were religiously unaffiliated.

What's going on here?

Pew researchers said some of the changes could be partly explained by generational replacement, which means millennials who become adults are less religiously affiliated than their predecessors. Plus baby boomers and other older adults are more likely to shun religion than they have been in years past. Combine these things with the country's increasing racial and ethnic diversity, and the changes make a lot of sense.

Also, to keep things in context, while there are a lot of changes happening, there's also a lot that still remains the same. Seven in 10 Americans are still affiliated with some Christian denomination, and the US still has more Christians than any other country in the world.