Home Christian News Have the Nones Jumped the Shark? Maybe.

Have the Nones Jumped the Shark? Maybe.

(Photo by Kimson Doan/Unsplash/Creative Commons)

(RNS) — Since the mid-2000s, the fastest-growing religious group in America has been the so-called nones.

The percentage of Americans who claim no religious affiliation nearly doubled from 2007 (16%) to 2022 (31%), becoming a force in American culture and one of the largest segments of the religious landscape, according to Pew Research.

But all things pass. And the skyrocketing growth of the nones may be fading.

“They are not growing as fast as they used to,” said Ryan Burge, associate professor of political science at Southern Illinois University and author of “The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going.”

Burge, known for his popular graphs depicting religion trends, told Religion News Service in an interview that the growth of the nones appears to be waning. He pointed to data from Pew, the General Social Survey and the Cooperative Election Study, all of which appear to show a slowdown in the percentage of Americans who claim no religion.

Pew’s most recent published data found that 28% of Americans did not identify with a religion in 2023, a slight dip from the previous year. The CES data, the latest of which was released in May, showed that from 2020 to 2023, the percentage of nones was relatively stable. In 2020, the CES found that 34% of those surveyed were nones, while in 2021 and 2023, that percentage was 36%. (In 2022, 35% of those surveyed were nones.)

“From a pure statistical standpoint, I don’t know if we can say with any certainty whether there’s a larger share of nones in the United States today than there was in 2019,” Burge wrote in a recent edition of his Substack newsletter.

Burge compared the growth of the nones to the growth curve of popular products such as the Peloton bikes or tech companies like Apple and Google. Those brands grew rapidly at first but could not keep up that rapid growth forever.

“They became mature businesses,” said Burge. “That’s what the nones are — they’re not going to grow at this unbelievable pace going forward.”

Burge also suspects that most of the Americans who were eager or ready to give up on identifying with a religion have already done so. Any future growth, he said, will likely come from generational replacement — as older, more religious Americans die off and younger, less religious Americans take their place.

Greg Smith, associate director of research at Pew Research Center, said it’s too early to tell what exactly is happening with the nones. There have been some signs in recent years that the percentage of nones is stabilizing, he said, but that may be due to the normal fluctuations in survey responses from year to year.

In 2022, he said, the percentage of nones jumped to 31%, then dropped back down to 28%. He added that in 2016, the growth of the nones appeared to pause and then started to grow again.