A decline in the number of white Protestants in America underscores the overall growth trends of that group, but also indicates an increase among ethnics, according to a recent study.
In its “America’s Changing Religious Identity” report, the Public Research Religion Institute noted the change. After a long-held dominance, it said, white Christianity in America lags. Now, less than half of the country identifies itself with that group.
For a long time it was quite the opposite. In 1976, 81 percent of Americans identified as white and Christian while 55 percent of the country were white Protestants. As recently as 1996, the study said, white Christians made up 65 percent of the public. However, those figures began to fall precipitously. Today, only 43 percent of Americans identify as white and Christian.
Two trends in particular point toward the study’s results.
Effects from immigration, majority Christian
First, immigration brought a diversity in cultures, including religion. The Population Reference Bureau reported that through the 1960s and 1970s America allowed 330,000-450,000 immigrants annually. Throughout the 80s, though, that number doubled to approximately 735,000 a year. Since the 90s, immigration figures have held steady at 1 million annually.
But though immigrants brought their own religion, often that religion was Christianity. The government doesn’t officially keep track of immigrants’ religion. However, a 2013 Pew Research Center study attempted to estimate the figure using data from green card recipients and countries of immigrants’ origin.
According to the research, in 2012 approximately 61 percent of an estimated 1,030,000 immigrants receiving permanent residency status were Christians. All other faiths came in at 25 percent, while 14 percent (again, estimation), of immigrants likely claimed no religious affiliation.
The growth of nonwhite Christians
Generational differences define the other development in the decline of white Christianity in America. Millennials and Generation Z simply don’t attend church like their predecessors. Since the early 1990s, the number of those claiming no religious affiliation has basically tripled in size to now account for nearly a quarter of the country.
Every state in the country except Hawaii experienced a decrease in the number of white Christians from 2007-2016. Georgia, keeping with similar numbers in surrounding states, experienced a 13 percent drop.
The other side of that coin, however, comes with the increase in the number of non-white Christians. In 1991, 83 percent of all Protestants were white. Today, that figure has dropped to where roughly a third of all Protestants are now nonwhite.
Those figures vary according to denomination, though.
“More than nine in ten Lutherans (92 percent) and roughly eight in ten Methodists (83 percent), Presbyterians (83 percent), and Episcopalians (80 percent) are white, non-Hispanic,” the report stated. “In contrast, fewer than six in ten (58 percent) Baptists are white, and a sizeable share of members are black (30 percent) or Hispanic (5 percent).”