PRRI: 2017: America's Changing Religious Identity

Principal Investigator(s): Daniel Cox, Robert P. Jones

Study Dates: January 6, 2016 - January 10, 2017

Key Findings:

PRRI  -  Public Religion Research Institute - report issued in September, 2017 summarizes data on religious identity collected from 101,438 Americans in all 50 states by SSRS (Social Science Research Solutions) interviewers from January 6, 2016 through January 10, 2017.

Data derive from PRRI's American Values Atlas.

Data on all Americans reflect the country's changing religious landscape away from a white Christian majority.   "With aging white Christian groups now accounting for fewer than half of the public and non-Christian groups constituting the country’s youngest religious communities, the future of American religion will likely look strikingly different than its past. A massive new survey out today from PRRI reveals seismic shifts in the religious landscape over the last few decades, including the sharp growth of the religiously unaffiliated—a category that includes atheists, agnostics, and those who say they do not identify with any particular religion—along with racial and ethnic changes that are transforming nearly all major Christian denominations."

The PRRI data also highlights and confirms data about the American Jewish community that has emerged from multiple studies over the past decades:

• Jews are estimated to be approximately 2.3% of the American population.

Overall, 1.5% of Americans identify as Jewish when responding to a question about their religious affiliation.   [Jewish-by-religion]

• "However, previous research has suggested questions that frame Jewish identity in explicitly religious terms may undercount the total Jewish population because they miss those with a cultural or familial affinity. To address this issue, the survey included a question to identify those who had a cultural rather than a religious connection to their Jewish identity.  

An additional 0.8% of Americans identify as culturally but not religiously Jewish.

•  Among Jews under the age of 30, fewer than half (47%) identify as
religiously Jewish, while a majority (53%) identify as culturally Jewish. In sharp contrast, more than three-quarters (78%) of Jewish seniors (age 65 or older) are religiously Jewish, while 22% identify as culturally Jewish.

Denominational identification:

"Among all Jewish Americans—those who identify as Jewish both religiously and culturally—more identify as Reform than any other denomination. Twenty-eight percent of Jews identify as Reform, compared to 14% who identify as Conservative and 10% who identify as Orthodox. Two percent identify as Reconstructionist."

• More than one-third (37%) of Jewish Americans claim to be
“just Jewish” when asked about their denominational affiliation.   

•  Table 2 notes a generational shift in denominational identity among Jewish adults.  Just Jewish answers accounted for 44% of respondents under age 30 compared to about 33%-37% for older Jewish respondents.

Reform identity (28% overall) declines among each age cohort, from 35% among those 65 and older to 20% among those 18-29.

Conservative identification similarly has declined from 20% among those 65+ to 8% among those 18-29.

Orthodox identification has increased among the younger cohorts; while 3% of respondents 65 and older identify as Orthodox, the percentage increases to 6% among those 50-64, 13% among those 30-49, and 15% of those 18-29.

The PRRI report also compares data on Jewish Americans to other religious groups in terms of gender, income, occupation, education, home ownership, health insurance status, race and identity, marital status and political party allegiance.


American Values Atlas is a project of PRRI, with SSRS supervising interviews of 101,438 American on landlines and cellphones (60,355).

Sample Size: 101,438

Sample Notes:

Methodology discussion on pages 43-44 of the complete report PDF discusses sampling and weighting used for the study and the Atlas, and provides a state-by-state summary of the number of completed interviews.

"The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 0.4 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. The margin of error for the issue sample is +/- 0.6 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. The design effect is 1.4."



Study Notes:

DataBank users can download the complete report, topline survey results and a Press Release issued by PRRI.

Users should also consult the home page for the 2017 report  and the American Values Atlas for updates and future data/reports.

The data file from the study should be available from PRRI after an approximately one year data embargo.


Funding to support the American Atlas project was assisted by grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Gill Foundation,  the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Ford Foundation, and the Universalist Unitarian Program at Shelter Rock.

Language: English