America Goes the Way of Europe: Christians Become Minority

Young Americans are losing faith. White Christians have become the minority. The Catholic Church is becoming Latino.

View of the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 26, 2009
View of the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 26, 2009 (Jon Dawson)

America is going the way of Europe. There are fewer Christians. Young people in particular are losing faith. White Christians have become a minority.

The Public Religion Research Institute interviewed more than 100,000 Americans across all fifty states and found that:

  • White Christians comprise only 43 percent of the population anymore. As recently as 1976, that was 81 percent.
  • Catholic and mainline Protestant churches have gradually lost flock. A decline in evangelical Christians — once thought to be bucking the trend — has been more sudden. They went down from 23 percent of the population in 2006 to 17 percent today.
  • The Catholic Church is undergoing an ethnic transformation. A quarter century ago, 87 percent of Catholics were non-Hispanic whites. Today that’s 55 percent.
  • 38 percent of Americans under the age of thirty call themselves unaffiliated with any church. Only 12 percent of seniors do.

Unlike Western Europeans, Americans are reluctant to describe themselves as atheist

They prefer terms like “agnostic” or “secular” or “not religious”. That is probably the legacy of Christianity playing such an usually (by Western standards) large role in American culture and American politics for many decades.

But the trends are clear: Young people are leaving the church; white Christians have become a minority; the Catholic Church is on its way to becoming predominantly Latino.

That has political implications

A generation ago, you wouldn’t have been able to guess an American’s party from their faith. Now if you meet a white Christian, you can bet they vote Republican. If they’re neither white or Christian, you’re probably looking at a Democrat.