Mississippi Retains Standing as Most Religious State

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The FINANCIAL — Mississippi remains the most religious state in the U.S., with 59% of its residents in 2016 classified as “very religious,” followed by Alabama (56% very religious) and Utah (54%). Vermont is the least religious state; 21% of its residents are classified as very religious. Two other New England states, Maine and Massachusetts, are the second- and third-least religious.

These state-by-state results are based on 174,969 interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking in 2016, including more than 480 interviews in every state and more than 1,000 interviews in most states. Complete results and sample sizes are shown at the end of the article.

Gallup classifies Americans as “very religious,” “moderately religious” or “nonreligious” based on their responses to questions about the importance of religion and church attendance. Very religious Americans say religion is important to them and report attending services every week or almost every week. Nonreligious Americans are those for whom religion is not important and who seldom or never attend religious services. Moderately religious Americans meet just one of the criteria, saying either religion is important or that they attend services almost every week or more often.

Gallup began tracking religious indicators daily in 2008. The percentage of all Americans who are very religious has declined slightly over that period of time, from 41% in 2008 to 38% in 2016, while those who are nonreligious has edged up from 30% to 32%. The relative rank ordering of the states, however, has changed little over the past nine years.

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Mississippi is the most religious state in the nation for the ninth straight year. In 2008, when Gallup first calculated these state rankings, 59% of Mississippi residents were very religious — the same as today, although this percentage has fluctuated some over the past nine years. Alabama and Utah have owned the second and third spots in the religiosity rankings in all but one year, 2009, when Alabama was second and Utah tied with South Carolina and Louisiana for third.

Most of the top 10 highly religious states over the past nine years have been in the South, except for Utah, where the highly religious Mormon population helps put it in the top 10 consistently. In 2016, the only other non-Southern state in the top 10 was South Dakota, according to Gallup.

The least religious states have typically been concentrated in the upper Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northwest regions. Vermont has been the least religious state for all but one of the last nine years, the exception being 2015 when New Hampshire topped the list.

In 2016, all six New England states were among the 10 least religious states, along with Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Alaska and Nevada. This marked the first time New Hampshire was neither the least nor second-least religious state in the union; the Granite State tied for 10th least religious.

Bottom Line

There is no clear-cut answer as to why state-by-state differences in religiosity persist. Some of it relates to a state’s culture, which in turn derives from many years of religious history. A state’s religious culture also reflects the type of religion dominant in each state. Utah’s majority-Mormon population and Southern states’ strongly Protestant population, for example, are more likely to be religious than those in states where these religions are less dominant.

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These cultures can be self-sustaining and extend beyond the life of any one resident. Children in highly religious states generally end up being more religious than children who grow up in less religious states. Persons moving to Mississippi may find themselves more likely to attend religious services because so many others are doing so, while persons moving to Vermont may be less inclined to attend because so few of their neighbors do.

Overall religious patterns continue to change in the U.S., with an increase in the percentage of Americans who say that they have no formal religion and a slight overall decrease in general religiosity. To date, however, these patterns have not dramatically affected the relative religiosity of the states when compared with one another, and the evidence from the past nine years suggests that this pattern may persist in the years ahead.


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