By Melanie Batley
Christianity is in sharp decline in America, according to new research from the Pew Research Center, making for a significantly less Christian country than that of just seven years ago.
The number of Christians dropped by almost 8 percentage points in seven years to 71 percent, and the trend holds across race, gender, education, and geographic dimensions, though Christianity still dominates American religious identity at 70 percent, USA Today said.
"It's remarkably widespread," Alan Cooperman, director of religion research for the Pew Research Center, said, according to The Washington Post. "The country is becoming less religious as a whole, and it's happening across the board."
The research also found that the percentage of people not affiliated with a religion has increased from 16 percent to about 23 percent over that period.
A number of key trends have emerged from the research, the Post said.
For one, millennials have become less affiliated with religion as they have aged over the last decade. In 2007, 25 percent did not affiliate with a religion. In the current survey, it's 34 percent.
"Some have asked, 'Might they become more religiously affiliated as they get older?' There's nothing in this data to suggest that's what's happening," said Greg Smith, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center, according to the Post.
A second trend indicates that there are more religiously unaffiliated Americans than Catholics or mainline Protestants. The unaffiliated amount to 25 percent, compared to 21 percent for Catholics and 15 percent for Protestants.
Specifically, the numbers of Catholics and Protestants have both shrunk between 3 and 5 percentage points since 2007, while the evangelical share of the population is down by 1 point since that time.
"That's a striking and important note," Smith told the Post.
Another trend indicates that those who are unaffiliated are becoming more secular.
The "nones," or religiously unaffiliated, include atheists, agnostics and those who say they believe in "nothing in particular." Of those who are unaffiliated, 31 percent say they are atheists or agnostics, an increase of 6 points since 2007.
"What we're seeing now is that the share of people who say religion is important to them is declining," Smith told the Post. "The religiously unaffiliated are not just growing, but as they grow, they are becoming more secular."
The trend also holds for older generations as the percentage of baby boomers who identified as "none" increased from 14 percent in 2007 to 17 percent in the current survey.
"More people know the facts, and more people realize they are not alone," David Silverman, president of American Atheists, told USA Today. "It's now impossible for an atheist to think he is alone in this world. They are automatically empowered."
"There's a continuing religious disaffiliation among older cohorts. That is really striking," Smith told the Post. "I continue to be struck by the pace at which the unaffiliated are growing."
The poll also found that intermarriage has increased with each generation, with 39 percent in a religiously mixed marriage compared to 19 percent among those who got married before 1960, USA Today reported.