Driven by Young People and Men, the Share of Religiously Unaffiliated Black Americans Is Growing

Black Americans have typically been more likely than Americans of other races or ethnicities to be affiliated with religious faith. However, according to data from PRRI’s American Values Atlas, the contingent of religiously unaffiliated Black Americans is growing steadily. This group is more liberal than their religiously affiliated peers; however, they are less likely to identify as Democrats.

In 2013, just 16% of Black Americans were religiously unaffiliated. In 2020, that share has grown to 21%. The share of Black Protestants has correspondingly decreased over the same time span, from 71% in 2013 to 63% in 2020. Affiliation with other religious groups has remained relatively steady over the same period.

Who Are Unaffiliated Black Americans?

Young and male Black Americans are more likely to be religiously unaffiliated than older and female Black Americans. However, there are no significant differences across educational or geographic lines.

One-third of Black Americans ages 18 to 29 are religiously unaffiliated (32%), which is significantly greater than the share of Black Americans ages 30 to 49 (24%), ages 50 to 64 (17%), and over age 65 (10%). Much of the growth in the share of religiously unaffiliated Black Americans since 2013 has been concentrated among the younger age groups. In 2013, less than one in four Black Americans ages 18 to 29 (23%) were religiously affiliated, along with 18% of those ages 30 to 49, 11% of those ages 50 to 64, and just eight percent of those over age 65.

Black men (26%) are more likely than Black women (17%) to be religiously unaffiliated. The shares of both Black men and Black women have grown similarly from 2013 (20% and 13%, respectively).

There are no major differences along educational lines in the shares of Black Americans who are religiously unaffiliated. Around one in five Black Americans are religiously unaffiliated, regardless of whether they have a four-year college degree (19%) or not (22%).

There are also no major regional differences. Black Americans who live in urban areas (22%) and suburban areas (22%) are more likely than those who live in rural areas (15%) to be religiously unaffiliated. There are no significant differences across major regions of the country.

Political Implications for the Democratic Party

The Democratic Party has traditionally relied on Black Americans to form a major component of its electoral base, and the rise of competitive elections in states with larger shares of Black populations, including Georgia and North Carolina, will continue to shine a spotlight on winning Black voters. However, there is evidence that a Democratic Party identification may not be as alluring to religiously unaffiliated Black Americans as it is to their religious peers. Unaffiliated Black Americans are similarly likely to identify as liberal, but less likely to identify as Democrats.

Party identification is one of the largest divides between religiously affiliated and unaffiliated Black Americans. Unlike most other groups of Black Americans, religiously unaffiliated Black Americans are not overwhelmingly Democrats. More than four in ten identify as Democrats (44%), while 46% identify as independents and 5% identify as Republicans. Among the religiously affiliated, more than six in ten identify as Democrats (63%), while half as many identify as independents (27%), and less than one in ten identify as Republicans (7%).

Despite being less likely to identify as Democrats than their religiously affiliated peers, religiously unaffiliated Black Americans are more likely to identify as liberal (40%) than those who are religiously affiliated (32%). 

Some of this difference largely tracks with what is expected for younger Americans, who are typically more liberal but less attached to partisan identification. However, religiously unaffiliated Black Americans are less likely than their religiously affiliated peers to identify as Democrats, regardless of whether they are under age 50 (41% vs. 56%, respectively) or over age 50 (52% vs. 69%, respectively). However, across 2019, both groups held similarly negative views of then-president Donald Trump: 79% of religiously unaffiliated Black Americans and 77% of religiously affiliated Black Americans viewed him unfavorably, indicating that the groups share a common big-picture outlook despite their outlook on the Democratic Party.