New Study Shows Fewer Americans Now Pray, Believe in God

A new study by researchers at FAU and their collaborators has revealed a dramatic decline in the number of adult Americans who pray or believe in God, hitting an all-time low in 2014.

Overall findings from this study show that in recent years, fewer Americans prayed, believed in God, took the Bible literally, attended religious services, identified as religious, affiliated with a religion, or had confidence in religious institutions.


By gisele-galoustian | 3/23/2016

A new study by researchers at Florida Atlantic University, San Diego State University and Case Western Reserve University has revealed a dramatic decline in the number of adult Americans who pray or believe in God, hitting an all-time low in 2014.

Ryne Sherman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, and colleagues, analyzed data from 58,893 respondents to the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults administered between 1972 and 2014. The researchers found especially striking declines between 2006 and 2014 among 18 to 29 year olds.

“We found that five times as many Americans in 2014 indicated that they never prayed compared to Americans in the early 1980s, and almost twice as many of them said that they didn’t believe in God,” said Sherman.

Overall findings from this study show that in recent years, fewer Americans prayed, believed in God, took the Bible literally, attended religious services, identified as religious, affiliated with a religion, or had confidence in religious institutions.

Results from the study also show: 

  • Only slightly more Americans identified as spiritual since 1998, and then only those over the age of 30.
  • Nearly a third of Millennials were secular not only in religious affiliation but belief in God, religiosity, and religious service attendance — many more than Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers at the same age.
  • Eight times more 18 to 29 year olds never prayed in 2014 versus the early 1980s.
  • The decline in religious commitment was most pronounced among men, whites, the college educated, and those in the midwest, northeast, and west, while it was nearly absent among black Americans and small in the south.
  • There was a slight increase in belief in the afterlife.

“The differences in religious commitment due to gender, race, education, and region suggest a more religiously polarized nation,” said Sherman. “It also appears that groups with relatively high social power are less likely to see themselves as having a significant need for religion or God in recent years.”  

The researchers point out that this decline in religious practice has not been accompanied by a rise in spirituality, which suggests rather than spirituality replacing religion, Americans are becoming more secular. The one exception to the decline in religious beliefs was a slight increase in belief in the afterlife.  

Along with Sherman, study authors are Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., a psychology professor who led the study at San Diego State University; Julie J. Exline, Ph.D., senior research associate and associate professor at Case Western Reserve University; and Joshua B. Grubbs, Ph.D., psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve University.

-FAU-

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