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Friday, September 08, 2017

The Disappearing WASP

Over at the Public Religion Research Institution (PRRI), Daniel Cox and Robert Jones have posted the results of an interesting new study on Americans’ religious identity and affiliation.  The Executive Summary lists 14 major findings, but I’ll highlight just a few.

  1. White Christians are now less than half the American population.
  2. Since 2006:
    1. White Evangelicals: Down from 23% to 17%;
    2. White Mainline Protestants: Down from 18% to 13%;
    3. White Catholics: Down from 16% to 11%
  3. Christians are demographically much older than non-christians.
  4. Catholics are becoming significantly less white, and more Hispanic: In 1962 almost nine out of ten American Catholics were white; just over half are today.
  5. White Christians make up 29% of the Democratic party; they comprise 73% of the Republican party.
  6. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans now identify as religiously unaffiliated.

The findings are interesting in any number of ways, focused as they are not only on religiosity generally, but also on the intersection of race and religion, and the intersection of age and religion.  Protestant Christians, taken together, still make up roughly 55% of the population, and Catholics add on another 11%.  So 2/3 of Americans still identify as Christian—but fully 1/3 of that population is now non-white.  And Christians of all races are concentrated in the older demographics—44% of those aged 18-29 identified as non-christian, which was true of less than 20% of those over 65.  All of this, of course, intersects with America’s changing racial demography—the Pew Research Center has suggested that white American’s will make up less than half the population by 2055

What can we make of this, especially as it relates to our social and political lives?  I’m not sure—but I’ll pose a few of the questions that came into my mind.  Maybe others can provide answers or insights.

  1. If America ever was a Christian nation (and I’ll suggest that at least some of our basic principles—such as separating civil and religious authority—have a distinctly Protestant feel to them) will, or should, we become something else?
  2. Will party politics continue to splinter along religio-racial lines? Asians are now the largest group of incoming immigrants, and the PRRI study shows them to have diverse religious beliefs.
  3. It seems likely that much of the current white anger and backlash/MAGA is something of a retreat and rearguard assault in the face of these numbers—what is the endgame there?  How does our constitutional culture reshape itself and evolve?

Posted by Ian Bartrum on September 8, 2017 at 03:47 PM | Permalink


What kind of idiot puts "blacks" into the athiest block? I hope not a law professor.

Posted by: Overtonwindows | Sep 12, 2017 6:27:46 PM

Wow this post attracted some _interesting_ comments. I wonder if it got linked somewhere.

Posted by: john | Sep 10, 2017 1:04:25 PM


If this is the future of a non-Christian America, then yes, the future will be far different from today.

Posted by: yes go zone | Sep 9, 2017 10:17:18 PM


When we say that a person is observant or that religion is important to them, we mean they want to ban abortion or instate organized school prayer (i.e, vote against democrats).

If someone wants to allow abortion and ban organized school prayer, we say that religion isn't the most important thing in their life [rights are] or they are non-religious (i.e., vote against republicans).

Posted by: religious is code for "anti-abortion" | Sep 9, 2017 6:22:41 PM

(I'm using my reply to one person to make some general remarks.)

Posted by: Joe | Sep 9, 2017 1:18:17 PM

"was just getting ready to point out that African Americans are the exception to this pattern"

Well, better late than never.

The comment also spoke about how "important" religion is to a person and then moves in to how "observant" they are. But, what exactly does "religion" mean here? For many, religion is not merely going to services once a week.

For many, religion is a matter of belief and action. Many don't like certain connotations of "religion" such as strict doctrine or hierarchy restraints. So, they might say they are "spiritual" instead. I'm not really sure the line there myself. Tends to be a tad misleading.

How to decide this "much more" is thus complicated. One poll did show a 14% differential regarding "importance in one's life" of religion is "very"


And, 15% regarding membership at services. But, if a person doesn't go to mass regularly, let's say, but has a strong moral base that ultimately rests on belief in something above him or herself and it is important in his or her life, is that person someone for which religion is important?

Finally, I'm sure moving past African Americans, we can find some exceptions. Evangelicals in fact are a broad group, many of whom very well might not even go to services regularly (religion is a personal matter arising from direct inspiration from God). Are they "observant"?

Posted by: Joe | Sep 9, 2017 1:15:31 PM

It is important to note that being in Christ, does not depend on one's Race/Ancestry, or being male or female; it does depend on recognizing it is God, not Caesar, King John, or Johm Locke, Who Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage.

"[26] For you are all the children of God by faith, in Christ Jesus. [27] For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ. [28] There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. [29] And if you be Christ's, then are you the seed of Abraham, heirs according to the promise."

"God Is Love." Love exists in relationship. Love Is Trinitarian, The Lover, The Beloved, and The Spirit of Love Between The Lover and The Beloved. Once we no longer recognize that our unalienable Rights have been endowed to us from God, anything can become permissible.

Posted by: N.D. | Sep 9, 2017 9:09:17 AM


Given current practices, there is no realistic chance of securing a legal prohibition on consuming animal products, and thus we think that advocacy efforts should focus chiefly on changing hearts and minds. In a future in which vegans constitute something like a majority of the population, we might reevaluate the wisdom of seeking legal prohibition. We reject the notion that individual consumers are entitled, as a matter of right, to consume animal products.

If eating meat (beef, pork, horse, dog) is a white protestant thing, then yes, the future where meat-eaters are the minority will be drastically different, from a purely culinary perspective.

Posted by: Vegan gains | Sep 9, 2017 4:38:13 AM

"It's interesting that the AS part of WASP just completely fell out of it at some point."

The AS fell out when the AS started referring to Irish, Italians, Russians and Jews as whites (indo-europeans), rather than as Irish, Italians, Russians and Jews. When Scalia was put on the court he was called an Italian, when he passed he was called white.

"Whitelash" doesn't just refer to Anglo-Saxons, but to all whites; otherwise it'd be AngloSaxonLash.

Posted by: Jews are Whites | Sep 8, 2017 7:37:13 PM

Brad, the term WASP wasn't invented in the 50s to literally describe a religious group. Rather it referred to the Protestant elite that was heavily Northeastern based, predominantly Episcopalian, and greatly overrepresented at the big law firms, Wall Street, Ivy League presidencies and the like. George Bush Sr. would be a classic example. George Wallace was white, Anglo-Saxon descent, and Protestant but no one would have called him a WASP.

Posted by: PaulB | Sep 8, 2017 6:01:39 PM

Dr. MLB, was just getting ready to point out that African Americans are the exception to this pattern.

Posted by: PaulB | Sep 8, 2017 5:47:29 PM

"Today, party affiliation is shaped not by which religion you practice but rather by how important religiion is to you."

That's why blacks are overwhelmingly democrat, they're overwhelmingly atheists. No one's heard of a black church, whereas everyone's heard of a white church.

Posted by: Dr MLB | Sep 8, 2017 5:16:51 PM

American politics are less divided by religion now than they were for the century after the Civil War. The Democratic Party was in fact the party of "rum, Romanism, and rebellion", that is the party of Southerners and Catholics, while northern Protestants were overwhelmingly Republican. Today, party affiliation is shaped not by which religion you practice but rather by how important religiion is to you. Protestants, Catholics, and Jews who are strongly observant are much more Republican than their coreligionists for whom religion is not important.

Posted by: PaulB | Sep 8, 2017 5:00:09 PM

If Separation of Church and State, free speech to criticize and mock Islam, right to wear what you want (no school uniforms), the miranda warning, the exclusionary rule, abortion, etc. are white lutheran values, then the American political landscape could change dramatically.

However, if Warren Court values are universal (subjective) values--as Muslim immigrants tell us--then we should expect American politics to remain largely the same.

Posted by: Bill Douglas | Sep 8, 2017 4:57:36 PM

It's interesting that the AS part of WASP just completely fell out of it at some point. I don't think that in the 40s and 50s when the acronym came into use there was a strict blood quantum requirement or anything, but I also don't think it would have been used for someone like Eisenhower, whereas today it would.

Posted by: brad | Sep 8, 2017 4:55:59 PM

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