The study found larger religious declines among whites than blacks and larger declines in the West and Northeast than in the South.
The number of Americans who say they pray or believe in God has hit a low since at least the early 1970s, according to a new study.
However, nonreligious people are twice as likely today to believe in an afterlife as those in the 1980s, according to the study, which analyzes responses to four decades of data compiled in the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey.
“It’s an indication that people believe they don’t have to do all the work, they don’t have to pray and go to church, but they will still enjoy all the benefits of an afterlife,” said Ryne Sherman, assistant professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, who helped conduct the study.
Senior citizens tend to be the most religious and showed the smallest shifts in habits over time, the analysis shows. The study found larger religious declines among whites than blacks and larger declines in the West and Northeast than in the South.
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Sherman conducted the study with researchers at San Diego State University and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The data used comes from polls of 58,893 respondents to the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults of all ages administered between 1972 and 2014
The results were published in Sage Open, an academic journal.
The findings show that from the early 1980s to 2014:
• Those who identified their religion as “none” increased from 7 percent to 21 percent.
• Those who never attend religious services doubled to 26 percent.
• Those who say they never pray rose from 3 to 15 percent.
• Those who say they don’t believe in God rose from 13 to 22 percent.
• Those who believe in an afterlife stayed flat at 79 percent, but nonchurchgoers who believe in an afterlife increased from 7 to 15 percent.
The study’s conclusions are similar to ones in a survey released last fall by the Pew Research Center.
The findings are particularly striking among those younger than 30, with nearly one-third saying they are not religious, up from 12 percent of young people in the 1980s.
“The large declines in religious practice among young adults are also further evidence that millennials are the least religious generation in memory, and possibly in American history,” said San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge, another author of the study.