This Christmas season, 78% of Americans identify with some form of Christian religion, a proportion that has been declining in recent decades. The major reason for this decline has been an increase in the percentage of Americans claiming no religious identity, now at 13% of all adults.
The trend results are based on annual averages of Gallup's religious identity data in America that stretch back over 60 years. One of the most significant trends documented during this period is the substantial increase in the percentage of American adults who don't identify with any specific religion. In 1948, only 2% of Americans did not identify with a religion. That percentage began to rise in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Eleven years ago, in 1998, 6% of Americans did not identify with a religion, a number that rose to 10% by 2002. This year's average of 13% of Americans who claim no religious identity is the highest in Gallup records.
The percentage of Americans who identify as Catholic, Protestant, or some other non-Catholic Christian faith has been concomitantly decreasing over the years. This suggests that one of the major patterns of religious transition in America in recent decades has been the shift from identification as Christian to the status of having no specific religious identification.
In 1948, 91% of Americans identified with a Christian faith. Twenty years ago, in 1989, 82% of Americans identified as Christian. Ten years ago, it was 84%. This year, as noted, 78% of all American adults identify with a Christian faith.
There has also been a slight increase in the percentage of Americans who identify with a religion that is not specifically classified as Christian. Sixty years ago, for example, 4% of Americans identified with a non-Christian religion. By 1989, 9% of Americans were in this non-Christian religion category, the same percentage as today.
Does the decrease in religious identity signify that religion is losing its importance for Americans? There was a substantial drop in the percentage of Americans who said religion was "very important" in their lives between the 1960s and the 1970s -- from 70% in 1965 to 52% by 1978 -- but in recent decades, this "very important" percentage has remained relatively steady. The overall figure today -- 56% -- is slightly higher than it was 31 years ago.
There has been a slight tendency over the years for Americans to shift from a "fairly important" category to the "not very important" category in answer to this religious importance question. The percentage saying religion is not very important in their lives was routinely in the 12% to 15% range from 1978 through the early years of this decade. In more recent years, this percentage has drifted slightly upward, and is at 19% this year ...
Although a little more than one out of five Americans do not identify with a Christian faith, the Christmas season has ramifications for a broader segment of society. A Gallup survey conducted last year showed that 93% of all American adults said they celebrated Christmas.