(RNS) — America has long prided itself on being a country where people can choose whatever religion they like. The majority has long chosen Christianity.
By 2070, that may no longer be the case. If current trends continue, Christians could make up less than half of the population — and as little as a third— in 50 years. Meanwhile, the so-called nones — or the religiously unaffiliated — could make up close to half of the population. And the percentage of Americans who identify as Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and other non-Christian faiths could double.
Those are among the major findings of a new report from the Pew Research Center regarding America’s religious future—a future where Christianity, though diminished, persists while non-Christian faiths grow amid rising secularization.
Researchers projected possible religious futures for the United States using a number of factors, including birth rates, migration patterns, demographics like age and sex, and the current religious landscape. They also looked at how religion is passed from one generation to another and how often people switch religions — in particular, Christians who become nones, a number that has been increasing in recent years.
They projected four different scenarios, based on differing rates of religious switching — from a continued increase to no switching at all.
“While the scenarios in this report vary in the extent of religious disaffiliation they project, they all show Christians continuing to shrink as a share of the U.S. population, even under the counterfactual assumption that all switching came to a complete stop in 2020,” according to the report. “At the same time, the unaffiliated are projected to grow under all four scenarios.”
Currently, about a third (31%) of Christians become disaffiliated before they turn 30, according to Pew Research. Twenty-one percent of nones become Christian as young adults. Should those switching rates remain stable, Christians would make up 46% of the population by 2070, while nones would make up 41% percent of the population.
If disaffiliation rates continue to grow but are capped at 50% of Christians leaving the faith, then 39% percent of Americans are projected to be Christian by 2070, with 48% percent of Americans identifying as nones. With no limit placed on the percentage of people leaving Christianity and with continued growth in disaffiliation, Christians would be 35% of the population, with nones making up a majority of Americans (52%).
If all switching came to a halt, then Christians would remain a slight majority (54%), while nones would make up 34% of Americans, according to the projection model.
Non-Christian faiths would rise to 12–13% of the population, largely due to migration, in each scenario. Migration does affect the percentage of Christians, as most immigrants coming to the U.S. are Christians, said Conrad Hackett, associate director of research and senior demographer at Pew Research Center.