Author: Michael Stone
Good News: Despite a vocal minority of Christian extremists, religion in the United States is in decline, and secularization is on the rise.
A new study finds a slow decline in American religiosity over time, demonstrating that religion in the United States is declining and mirroring patterns found across the western world.
The new research shows that contrary to anecdotal evidence, the United States is no different than other modern societies in the inevitable move towards secularization.
According to the new research from UCL and Duke University published in the March 2016 edition of the American Journal of Sociology, there is a slow, steady drop in the number of Americans who claim religious affiliations, attend church regularly and believe in God.
The study, titled “Is the United States a Counterexample to the Secularization Thesis?”, also finds that these drops are driven by generational differences. For example:
— 94 percent of Americans born before 1935 claim a religious affiliation. For the generation born after 1975, that number drops to 71 percent.
— 68 percent of Americans 65 and older said they had no doubt God exists, according to the study. But just 45 percent of young adults, ages 18-30, had the same belief.
— 41 percent of people 70 and older said they attend church services at least once a month, compared to just 18 percent of people 60 and younger.
The abstract of the study reads:
Virtually every discussion of secularization asserts that high levels of religiosity in the United States make it a decisive counterexample to the claim that modern societies are prone to secularization. Focusing on trends rather than levels, the authors maintain that, for two straightforward empirical reasons, the United States should no longer be considered a counterexample. First, it has recently become clear that American religiosity has been declining for decades. Second, this decline has been produced by the generational patterns underlying religious decline elsewhere in the West: each successive cohort is less religious than the preceding one. America is not an exception. These findings change the theoretical import of the United States for debates about secularization.
Speaking about his research, David Voas, a social scientist with UCL and co-author of the study, said:
None of these declines is happening fast, but the signs are now unmistakable. It has become clear that American religiosity has been declining for decades, and the decline is driven by the same dynamic — generational differences — that has driven religious decline across the developed world.
Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology, divinity and religion at Duke University, and another co-author of the study, notes:
The US decline has been so gradual that until recently scientists haven’t had enough data to be sure the trend was real. The US has long been considered an exception to the modern claim that religion is declining, but if you look at the trajectory, and the generational dynamic that is producing the trajectory, we may not be an exception after all.
Bottom line: This is good news. Despite the perverse Christian extremism of some Americans, things are getting better, and religious superstition is on the decline in America.