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No Strong Link Between Population Growth And Religious Identity

Yesterday’s release of state-by-state population trends measured by the 2010 Census brings us the opportunity to consider patterns of change in the American identity. When it comes to identity in the United States, no issue is more contentious than religion.

Religion is related to population in some respects. Education is negatively correlated with Christian identity, but positively correlated with family size, so one might hypothesize that states with higher Christian populations would have greater population growth than states with relatively low rates of Christian identity.

That hypothesis is not supported by census data. Matching relative state population change, as measured in the Census Bureau’s apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives, with percentage of residents self-identifying as Christian, as measured by the American Religious Identification Survey of 2008, no strong pattern emerges.

Here’s the rough breakdown of the data:

Change in House Seats Average % Christian
-2 75 (2 states)
-1 73.25
0 74.6
1 74.83
2 74 (1 state)
4 80 (1 state)

The one state that stands out here is Texas, which will gain 4 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and has an 80 percent Christian population, but that’s just one state at that level of gains. Louisiana also has an 80 percent Christian population, and is losing a seat in the U.S. House. Vermont, a state with the lowest rate of Christian identity, at just 55 percent, isn’t losing or gaining a seat in the House, and neither is the most Christian state, Mississippi, with a rate of Christian identity of 91 percent.

These results don’t necessarily mean that religious identity is not an active force in population distribution within the United States. It might be that competing religious influences on population cancel each other out. For instance, heavily Christian states might have a high rate of reproduction, but a matching high rate of emigration.

Such hypotheses will require additional sets of data in order to be tested. The important insight from the combination of the American Religious Identification Survey and the 2010 Census is that it’s not safe to predict trends in population from state to state according to prevalence of Christianity.

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