21 February, 2010

Religion Among the Millennials: Overview (Part 1)

Introductory comments.
Within the last week the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a new study titled Religion Among the Millennials. This study looks at religion among those 18-29 years old and also compares them to earlier generations when they were 18-29 years old and to the current total population. This is a descriptive study. It does not attempt to interpret or explain what the data mean. That is up to the reader. I plan to report on the findings in a series of posts on this blog. I encourage you to comment on the survey findings and any observations I present.

Who constitute the "generations?"
Exactly what age categories are used to define the various categories and how they are labeled vary somewhat from study to study. But all categories are based when people are born. In this study the following labels and age ranges are used:

Milennials: born in 1981 or later (Also called Gen Y or Gen ME)
Gen X: born between 1965 and 1980.
Boomers: born between 1946 and 1964.
Silent Gen: Born between 1928 and 1945.
Greatest Gen: born before 1928. (Often called the World War II Generation)

It is important to remember that data showing change or comparisons of generations to each other are based on adjusted data so that the respondents are equivalent in age.


Young People are less affiliated with any particular Faith
  • Fewer young Americans (18-29) are affiliated with a faith group than any of their elders, including Gen-X their nearest cohort.
  • The Millennials are less connected to a faith group than than their parents or grandparents when they were in their 20s.
  • In fact, fully one quarter of young Americans born after 1980 are unaffiliated with any particular faith.
  • Young adults attend religious services less often than their elders. 
  • Millennials also less likely than those older to say religion is "important in their lives." 

In some ways young adults under 30 are somewhat more "traditional."
  • Millennials are just about as likely as those who are older to believe in the existence of heaven, hell, and miracles.
  • Young adults today pray  less than their elders today, but they are more likely to pray than the elders did when they were in their 20s during the 1980s or 1990s.
  • Today those 18-29 less likely to believe in God than those who are older, but they say their "absolute certainty" of belief in God is just as strong as their elders when they were in their 20s. 
With regard to social and political views, young adults are a mixed bag but mostly "liberal."
  • Millennials are more likely than any age cohort to say society should accept abortion in all or most cases.
  • Millennials are most accepting of homosexuality, 63% versus 51% for Gen Xers.
  • These 18-29 year olds are the most accepting of evolution as the best explanation of human life
  • These young adults are least likely to believe that Hollywood threatens the moral fabric of society
  • Millennials are the age cohort most likely to support bigger government and more services
  • Millennials are no different in accepting that there are absolute moral standards than their elders.
  • Millennials are more likely than their elders to accept the idea that government should do more to protect morality.
  • Those 18-29 are the most likely to agree that houses of worship should speak out on social and political issues
  • Those 18-29 Millenials are the least likely to believe that pornography should be illegal for people of all ages
  • Young Americans are the most likely to oppose Bible reading and the Lord's Prayer in schools
What comes next?

Characteristics other than age  of people influence their beliefs, attitudes and behavior. Future posts will, in particular, describe how various types of religious identity affect overall results. Three important groups to watch for are the Unaffiliated (16% of the US population and growing in number), Catholics (24% of the American population and recently slightly decreasing except for increasing numbers of Hispanics), and Evangelical Christians (22% of the American population and barely holding their own)

An underlying issue that must be dealt with is whether or not the differences between Millennials and older cohorts is "merely" "generational' in nature or will endure throughout their lives. Many Christian parents and clergy have remarked through the years, "We all know the youngsters explore and often "leave the church," but when they get married, turn thirty, and have kids, they return to the Faith and church, for the sake of the children." Research so far tentatively indicates that this may no longer be the case. We shall see.


    1. very interesting subject matter, I have learned a lot from you. I was away for the weekend. I check in on your blogs everyday. Keep it up amico. Davide

    2. Yes, I'm a data hound particularly in the areas of religion or youth or in combo as here. The next two posts in this series will be on abortion and homosexuality, two of the hottest issues in the "culture wars."


    Comments most welcome.