New Pew Forum Poll
Explores Why Americans
Change Religious Affiliation
Diverse Reasons, but Distinct Patterns Emerge
Washington, D.C. —
A new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion &
Public Life finds that Americans change their religious affiliation
early and often, and the reasons they give for changing — or leaving
religion altogether — differ widely depending on the origin and
destination of the convert.
“Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.” is a
follow-up to the “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” conducted by the
Pew Forum in 2007 and released in 2008, and is based on over 2,800
callback interviews with members of the largest segments of the
population that have changed religious affiliation.
The poll results offer a fuller picture of the “churn” within religion
in America, where about half of adults have changed religious
affiliation at least once in their life.
Key findings include:
* Most people who change their religion leave their childhood faith
before age 24, and many of those who change religion do so more than
* Many people who have left a religion to become unaffiliated, the
group that has grown the most from religious switching, say they did so
in part because they stopped believing in the teachings of their
childhood faith. Many also cite disillusionment with religious people
and institutions as reasons for becoming unaffiliated.
* Many people who have left the Catholic Church say they did so because
they stopped believing in Catholic teachings. This is true for half of
Catholics who have become Protestant as well as two-thirds of Catholics
who have become unaffiliated. Many fewer say they left because of the
clergy sexual abuse scandal.
* In contrast with other groups, Americans who have switched from one
Protestant denominational family (e.g., Baptist, Methodist) to another
tend to do so because of changes in life circumstances, such as
marriage or moving to a new community.
The report, including a detailed executive summary, methodology and topline questionnaire, is available online. For the original “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” visit http://religions.pewforum.org.
The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life
delivers timely, impartial information on issues at the intersection of
religion and public affairs. The Pew Forum is a nonpartisan,
nonadvocacy organization and does not take positions on policy debates.
Based in Washington, D.C., the Pew Forum is a project of the Pew
Research Center, which is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.