Cover: Forecasting Religious Affiliation in the United States Army

Forecasting Religious Affiliation in the United States Army

Published Nov 29, 2021

by Melissa Haller


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Research Questions

  1. How has the religious composition of enlisted RA soldiers and of RA officers changed over time?
  2. How does the religious composition of the U.S. population compare with the religious composition of the enlisted RA?
  3. What is the likely projected religious composition of the enlisted RA and of RA officers over the next five years?

Changes in the religious composition of the United States could affect the religious composition of recruits into the U.S. Army; this in turn could significantly alter the religious needs of the Army population for years to come. To prepare for these changes, the U.S. Army's Office of the Chief of Chaplains will need to monitor and potentially adjust the force mix of the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps.

The research team analyzed administrative data on enlisted soldiers, chaplains, and officers in the Regular Army (RA), as well as data from the General Social Survey (GSS), a nationally representative survey of the U.S. population. They found that the religious composition of the U.S. population differs from that of the RA, and they project how the religious makeup of the RA might change if the Army modifies its recruitment efforts to target geographically underrepresented areas of the United States.

Key Findings

The three largest religious groups in the enlisted RA are Protestants, Catholics, and "Nones"

  • The proportion of Protestants increased from fiscal year (FY) 2000 to FY 2015 and began to decline modestly after FY 2015.
  • The proportion of Catholics has declined steadily since FY 2005.
  • The proportion of "Nones" fell between FY 2000 and FY 2015 but has since increased.

Officers in the Army tend to be considerably more religious than the enlisted population

  • The "Nones" population makes up less than 5 percent of RA officers.

The religious composition of the U.S. population differs from that of the enlisted RA

  • Protestants are the largest group overall in both populations, but the proportion of Protestants is increasing in the RA but decreasing in the United States.
  • The United States has a larger proportion of Catholics than the RA does.
  • The RA initially had a larger proportion of "Nones," but the proportion of "Nones" in the U.S. population has grown rapidly in the past 20 years and is approximately equivalent to the current proportion in the RA.

The religious composition of the enlisted population is likely to shift over the next five years

  • Given the current geographic makeup of the enlisted RA, the proportions of Protestants and Catholics will likely decline modestly, and the proportion of "Nones" will likely increase.
  • Religious makeup could shift further if the Army increases recruitment from underrepresented regions of the United States.
  • In contrast, the religious composition of the officer population is likely to remain relatively stable.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Army and conducted by the Personnel, Training, and Health Program in RAND Arroyo Center.

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