updated 7/20/2004 10:03:14 AM ET 2004-07-20T14:03:14

The United States will no longer be a majority Protestant nation in years to come, due to a precipitous decline in affiliation with many Protestant churches, a new survey has found.

Between 1993 and 2002, the share of Americans who said they were Protestant dropped from 63 percent to 52 percent, after years of remaining generally stable, according to a study released Tuesday by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

At the same time, the number of people who said they had no religion rose from 9 percent to nearly 14 percent, and many are former Protestants, the survey’s authors said.

Defining Protestants
The study was based on three decades of religious identification questions in the General Social Survey, which the opinion center conducts to measure public trends.

The United States “has been seen as white and Protestant,” said Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey. “We’re not going to be majority Protestant any longer.”

Respondents were defined as Protestant if they said they were members of a Protestant denomination, such as Episcopal Church or Southern Baptist Convention. The category included members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and members of independent Protestant churches.

Among the reasons for the decline were the large number of young people and adults leaving denominations as the number of non-Protestant immigrants increased, comprising a greater share of the population. Also, a lower percentage are being raised Protestant, Smith said.

'Christian' factor?
Smith said it is also possible that some former Protestants are now identifying themselves only as “Christian,” a choice on the survey.

The Roman Catholic population has remained relatively stable over the period, making up about 25 percent of the U.S. population.

People who said they belonged to other religions — including Islam, Orthodox Christianity or Eastern faiths — increased from 3 percent to 7 percent between 1993 and 2002, while the share of people who said they were Jewish remained stable at just under 2 percent.

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