Pew on Religion 2014

I was so busy this fall that I never got to comment on the latest Pew data on religion. While I missed the discussion back in November I hope people won’t mind me taking it up now.

The main, if unsurprising, conclusion Pew gave was that the US was becoming less religion. This is largely due to the rise of the Nones who have been increasing in number since the mid 90’s. Among those who are still religious though (about ¾) Pew notes “there has been no discernible drop in most measures of religious commitment. Indeed by some conventional measures, religiously affiliated Americans are, on average, even more devout than they were a few years ago.” 

The interesting drops are those who believe in God dropped from 92% to 89% from 2007 to 2014. Those certain God exists dropped far more sharply from 71% to 63%. A lot of this is again tied to the rise of the Nones. Pew has their population rising from 16% to 23%. Which is quite high.

Now I’ve argued that a lot of this shift of the Nones is largely people with loose commitment to religion who in the past would have said they were baptist and perhaps attended the occasional event. While there was a use for some loose commitment (or at least telling people they were committed) now there just isn’t that ground.  

While that accounts for a lot of the move, I think, there’s obviously more going on. In this study Pew takes up that question as well. The big difference is that rising generations are less connected to religion. That was always true to a degree, but they usually came back as they had families. Now people are having families later, if at all, and we don’t see that return we once saw. That shift of 8% in just 7 years is still surprisingly large. I think this generational shift is far more significant than this nominal shift in how people view themselves. i.e. just a change in what they call themselves but not in behavior. Unfortunately Pew in this study doesn’t break down the relationship between Nones and their parents religion. I suspect there’s some religious → None movement but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that is slowing and the growth is much more now due to the children of Nones.

Pew notes that the Nones are not necessarily unreligious. However with time the Nones are becoming much less observant. The rate isn’t huge. Of the Nones people who pray daily went form 22% to 20% and those who see religion as important went from 16% to 14%. Although who attend services at least once a month was virtually unchanged at 10% to 9%.

The Mormon rates are always a bit questionable on the Pew data simply because some past results just seemed pretty dubious. Pew’s dataset is 35,071. However that means that Mormons (unchanged at 1.6%) have a sample size of 561 which does seem reasonably large even if not quite as large as we’d like. Surprisingly the stats they did give aren’t that different from what they found in 2007. So perhaps my skepticism is a bit overstated.

The fact that the Mormon relative population remains unchanged is pretty interesting. It’s remained largely unchanged through my life, although ARIS had a slight drop in one cycle that then returned to trend. ARIS usually gets a lower rate of self-identification than Pew (1.4% vs. 1.6%). I’m not sure why that would be. We should note that this rate is relative to the US population. That population is growing, partially by birth rate and partially by immigration. However the rate of growth of the country is slowing and so it follows that Mormon growth is slowing by the same amount. After a short but rapid increase in the growth rate in the early 90’s to 1.3% growth it’s slowly decayed to around 0.7% annual growth which is actually under the rate in the 70’s and 80’s. However much of the US growth rate comes not by births but by immigration. (About 40%) The lower growth rate is due to lower immigration.

This means however that Mormons are growing fast enough, either by retained births or by converts, to make up for this growth in the country due to immigration. To my eyes that’s actually pretty impressive.

Mormon rates of reading scripture weekly are basically the same. (76% in 2007 and 77% in 2014) And attending church weekly is the same. 

Those participating in a study group changed a lot (64% – 71%) but that may be because that’s a very weirdly worded question for Mormons. Especially when the brethren were warning of study groups in the 90’s due to various apostasy issues. I think Sunday School would count but I can  see people not being certain how to answer making the question’s meaning problematic for us. 

Sharing our faith went from 24% to 33% which is very interesting. First I’d have thought Mormons, with our missionary emphasis, would do that far more. Especially when you see the rates for other faiths. (26% average for Christians, 35% for Evangelicals, & 44% for historically black protestants)

Unsurprisingly Mormons, along with everyone else, have shifted their views on homosexuality. It went from 24% to 36% for society accepting homosexuals. (Honestly I’m a bit surprised in remained that low) Unsurprisingly among the Nones it went from 71% to 83% since this is a major issue for those in that group.

Abortion is still frowned about. Mormons who think abortion should be legal in all or most cases stayed at 27%, which seemed surprisingly high to me. Among Nones support for abortion went from 70% to 73%. Interestingly support by Mainline Protestants dropped from 62% to 60%.

Where Mormons lived was interesting as well. Due to sample sizes I suspect this is a bit less accurate. So for instance Pew has 7% of Wyoming being Mormon. Which seems high until you realize that the sample size in Wyoming was only 316 people. That means they called 28 people there who were Mormon. Utah seems a bit more trustworthy at 55% self identifying as Mormon. Alaska seems high at 5% but again that’s a small sample size. 

According to Pew 54% of Mormons are women while 46% are men. So there remains a big difference there. Only 1% of Mormons are black, which is sad to me considering how much success we had in the black community on my mission. I think the church really needs to do more there. 8% are Latino though and 5% something else. (I’d imagine Polynesians would make up a big portion of that group)

42% of Mormons are parents of children under 18. This is actually a fair drop from 2007 when 50% were. 

Some of the other questions I’ll not get into as I tend to think them bad questions. (They’re just too ambiguous – such as whether scriptures are the word of god to be taken literally but not everything literally) Likewise some questions are complex for Mormons in ways they aren’t for other Christians (such as belief in hell – well what do you mean by that?)

Politically Mormons have become more, not less Republican. It’s gone from 65% to 71%. Political ideology remains unchanged. 60% to 61% self-identify as conservative, 28% → 27% as moderate and 9% → 8% for liberal. There was a huge change in view of small government though. It went from 56% favoring small government to 75%. Those wanting bigger government went from 36% to 21%. A new question is whether government does more harm than good. A staggering 65% said it did. 

The old evolution question I’ve long argued is misleading for Mormons. I could have sworn they’d asked it before but they just list 2014. 51% said humans have always existed in their present form, 30% had theistic evolution and 11% had natural evolution. Given the complexities of Mormon views of creation and the nature of humans I remain convinced this is pretty misleading. (For instance I think all the answers are correct in their own way)

Questions about retention, religious switching and so forth haven’t been released yet. To me those are the most interesting questions.






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