The number of U.S. adults saying they do not have a religious affiliation rose sharply during the pandemic. In the 2018 General Social Survey (GSS), 23% of U.S. adults reporting no affiliation. In the 2021 GSS survey, 29% responded as such. The shift spans across generations. Millennials saw the steepest rise at +7 percentage points unaffiliated, followed by Generation X (+5 percentage points), the Silent Generation (+4 percentage points), and Baby Boomers (+3 percentage points).
Why the sharp increase? I am not sure there are sufficient questions in the GSS at this time to ground an answer in data. However, my hypothesis would be that as many were unable to go to religious services some adjusted to a new way of life. Yet, it’s not just as if Americans shifted the practice of their faith inside their home. In 2018, 56% reported daily prayer. In 2012, just 44% indicate this.
The share of the population affiliating as Catholic in 2018 was 23% and measured 22% in 2021. This change is statistically insignificant and within margin of error. More noticeable was the decline in numbers affiliating as some other Christian which was 48% in 2018 and 42% in 2021.
Like others, Catholics didn’t necessarily take their faith “home” during the pandemic. In 2018, 60% of Catholics reported daily prayer in the GSS. This fell to 50% in 2021. Also, not every Catholic who attended Mass weekly prior to the pandemic was back attending weekly again in 2021. Weekly Mass attendance measured 22% in 2018 and 17% in 2021.
Note that these trends are very similar to what the Pew Research Center found using a different set of data.