In what’s being heralded as the “largest survey of American religious and denominational identity” ever conducted, PRRI found that historic shifts have taken place in the nation’s religious identity over the past few years, and suggests that the coming years are going to look very different for its religious landscape.
White Christians, who comprised 80 percent of the country just four decades ago, now make up just 43 percent of the U.S. In 2006, white Protestants accounted for nearly a full quarter of the American population. Today, they make up just 17 percent. Black protestants, in the meantime, make up abut 8 percent of the country, and have generally been holding at a much steadier rate than white Christians have.
In the meantime, the white Christian population is aging while other religious groups in America are retaining their youth. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and the religiously unaffiliated are all significantly younger than white Christian groups. 42 percent of Muslims, 36 percent of Hindus, 35 percent of Buddhists and 34 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans are under 30 years old. In the meantime, only 11 percent of white Catholics and white evangelical Protestants are under 30.
You’ve probably noticed that all these statistics about Christians are qualified with the word “white.” That’s because historically, American Christianity has been overwhelmingly white, owing to the country’s ethnic makeup. But even that is shifting, as the country grows increasingly diverse. The Catholic Church is undergoing a historic transformation in the U.S. Twenty-five years ago, the Catholic Church was nearly 90 percent white, non-Hispanic. Today, the Catholic Church in America is only about 55 percent white, non-Hispanic. Only about four in 10 Catholics under the age of 30 are white, while 55 percent are Hispanic.
These are big changes, and no institution in the U.S. has adequately reckoned with just what it could mean for the future. The big takeaway for the moment is that white Christians can no longer take it as a given that the rest of the country is just going to go along with their vision of the world. For the first time in the U.S.’ relatively young history, they do not make up the majority of the population.