Switching religions: Which religions best retain their adherents, and when people exit, where do they most often go? As usual, the General Social Survey provides answers when we get curious. Respondents were asked about the religion of their childhood, and about their current choice. Below I list the childhood religion and below that the percent distributions of their current status:
Current Religion (%)--Protestant at 16
Current Religion (%)--Catholic at 16
Current Religion (%)--Jewish at 16
Current Religion (%)--None at 16
Other Eastern .2
Current religion (%)--Buddhist at 16
Other Eastern 2.0
Current religion (%)--Hindu at 16
Current religion (%)--Muslim at 16
Other Eastern 1.8
Current religion (%)--Orthodox at 16
Current religion (%)--Christian at 16
Current religion (%)--Mormon at 16
Current religion (%)--Jehovah's Witness at 16
Jehovah's Witness 50
Current religion (%)--Seventh-Day Adventist at 16
Seventh-Day Adventist 88
Current religion (%)--Pentecostal at 16
Whew, that was a lot of typing. So what conclusions can we draw here? Well, the percent remaining Protestant exaggerates stability since some are changing from one Protestant denomination to another. On the other hand, even if there is some movement these numbers don't show, it is not usually movement to a completely different religion. (I'm sure most of the movement is from mainline to evangelical). It looks to me like Jews hold onto their own better than any other faith (84%) with Catholics coming in second (79%). Now, you might respond that Mormons are at 97% and some of these other small, new religions seem to have very high rates of retention. The problem is that sample sizes are so small, we simply can't conclude anything with confidence. I do think it's very interesting, however, that Jehovah's Witnesses lose half according to these numbers. If I grew up not celebrating my birthday or Christmas, I might want to make a change too. (Another reason to proceed with caution is that when respondents were asked about their current religion, only Protestant was given as a response choice for all these different groups, so I had to assume, for example, that someone who was a Mormon at 16 and a "Protestant" now had not changed religions. Is that clear as mud?) It's also interesting that among these small, intense religions, if someone does exit the faith, they usually don't replace it with something else. I suspect that being raised in this kind of religion convinces you that all other religions are unattractive.
More than others, Jews become people with no religion--a function of high IQ, I imagine. (The number might be higher for Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Orthodox, and Christians if we trust the small samples). About half of those raised with no religion join some church, a plurality becoming Protestant. This is probably due to numbers: if people usually convert through the influence of friends and significant others (I wince at the use of that term) and you form these relationships through proximity, well you bump into Protestants more often than anyone else.
There are other interesting patterns here, but this post is getting long, so sniff around if you feel like it, and let me know if you'd like me to look at related questions.