Faith After the Pandemic: How COVID-19 Changed American Religion
The Survey Center on American Life at AEI teamed up with researchers at NORC at the University of Chicago to measure religious affiliation and attendance both before the pandemic (2018 to March 2020) and again in spring 2022, revealing who remained at the pews, who returned to the pews, and who left.
Facts & Figures
- Aging in the Pews
- A Growing Gender Divide Among Young Voters
- The Political Transformation of White Evangelical Protestants
Aging in the Pews: That churches and places of worship have struggled to attract and retain young worshipers is no secret. But new research finds that the most active congregants have gotten far older over the past two decades. In 1998, nearly six in ten (58 percent) Americans who attended religious services at least once week were under the age of 50. By 2021, regular worshipers were far older—only 43 percent were under the age of 50. The majority were at least 50 years old and one in three were retirement age (65 years old or older). The growing generational divide in America’s churches and places of worships presents all sorts of challenges to churches, not least their capacity to navigate to sensitive cultural questions, such as sexuality and sexual identity. It also risks putting these churches further out of step with the general public on issues, like same-sex marriage.
A Growing Gender Divide Among Young Voters: Young voters were key to the Democratic Party’s surprising performance in the 2022 midterm elections. However, there was a pronounced gender gap young voters’ candidate preference. Nearly three quarters (72 percent) of young women voted for a Democrat compared to more than half (54 percent) of young men, an 18-point difference. After Dobbs, abortion became an extraordinarily salient issue during the 2022 campaign, especially for young women. Yet, it might not be entirely responsible for the widening divide. The gender gap in political preference grew considerably after Donald Trump’s election in 2016. As noted in a recent American Storylines newsletter, “Before Trump, Democratic candidates averaged around 60 percent of the vote among young women. That number rose to 70 percent in the years following his election.”
The Political Transformation of White Evangelical Protestants: White evangelical Christians have been an important Republican constituency for years, but their partisan commitments have undergone a remarkable change over the past two decades. In 1998, only slightly more than half (53 percent) of white evangelical Christians identified as a Republican or said they leaned towards the GOP. Twenty years later, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of white evangelical Christians are Republican. Over this time, the percentage identifying or leaning towards the Democratic Party has dropped considerably as well. Only 19 percent of white evangelical Christians are Democrats today, down from 41 percent in 1998.
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