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What's ahead for US as more Americans lose connection to religion

Young, white Americans are driving the trend, with as many as one-third saying they affiliate with no religion, a new survey says. It could affect notions of family and the shape of politics.

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One-fifth of US adults – including one third of adults under age 30 – identify as religiously unaffiliated, the highest percentage ever recorded by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religious and Public Life.

The rapid growth of religiously unaffiliated adults, which rose from 15 percent to 20 percent in the past five years, indicates significant changes in the American religious landscape, say authors of the report, “ ‘Nones’ on the Rise,” released Tuesday.

“What we are seeing here is long-term social changes in how people think about themselves, and how people talk about their connection to religion,” said Cary Funk, a Pew senior researcher, at the Religious News Association (RNA) convention on Oct. 6 in Bethesda, Md.

The religiously unaffiliated – also called “nones” – are people who answer surveys saying they are atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular.” The report shows that the US population includes 13 million people who identify as atheists or agnostics and 33 million who identify with no particular religion.

This rapid increase of the religiously unaffiliated will have “vast implications” for society, including a “restructuring of American religion,” said John Green, a Pew senior researcher and director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, during the RNA convention.

As the population becomes less religious, there could be potential impacts on other social institutions such as family, marriage, education, and politics, said Mr. Green.

More than six in 10 religiously unaffiliated voters are registered Democrats and are more likely to identify as liberals: 72 percent support legal abortion and 73 percent support same-sex marriage, the report found.

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