An annual survey of Harvard University’s incoming freshman class revealed in September that more students identified as atheist or agnostic than as Roman Catholic or Protestant, suggesting millennials are turning away from traditional American faiths in a country that has long had a Christian majority.
Harvard’s poll of beliefs and lifestyles of the class of 2019 found that 21 percent of incoming freshman said they identified as agnostic and 16.6 percent identified as atheist. Meanwhile, 17.1 percent identified as Catholic and 17 percent as Protestant. In other words, 38 percent of the incoming freshman class said they were agnostic or atheist, while 34 percent said they were Catholic or Protestant.
Some 12 percent of the class said they identified as “other,” including 10.1 percent Jewish, 3 percent Hindu, 2.5 percent Muslim and 0.4 percent Mormon, according to the poll results which were recently published in the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper.
The recent findings marked a shift from the results of the same survey two years earlier in which 22 percent of the incoming freshman class said they were Catholic and 20 percent identified as Protestant, while 18 percent said they were agnostic and 14 percent identified as atheist, according to Al Jazeera.
The Harvard survey echoed other recent findings that the number of the religiously unaffiliated is on the rise in the United States. A study released by the Pew Research Center in May indicated that fewer Americans have described themselves as Christians over the years. Christian affiliation in the United States declined by 7.8 percent between 2007 and 2014, while people identifying as “atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’” surged from 16.1 percent to 22.8 percent during the same time period.
A breakdown of the numbers shows that young adults are driving the change. Pew found that far more millennials, Americans born between 1981 and 1996, are religiously unaffiliated compared with those who identify as evangelical Protestants, Catholics or mainline Protestants.