Study: Young Americans Less Religious Than Their Parents

Posted on February 18, 2010



CNN) — Ministering to young adults at New York’s Riverside Church, the Rev. J. Lee Hill Jr. hasn’t had much success in recruiting for Sunday morning services.

But his mission trips to New Orleans, Louisiana, since Hurricane Katrina and his efforts to connect with older teens and 20-somethings — the so-called millennial generation — via Facebook have paid big dividends.

“Church is difficult because young people today want to engage actively,” Hill said. “They just want to experience God.”

A study released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public life appears to bear that out. On the one hand, it finds that young Americans are significantly less religious than their parents and grandparents were when they were young. But the report also suggests that many of the beliefs and faith-based practices of 18- to 29-year-olds mirror those of their elders.

One in four American millennials — which it defined as those who were born after 1980 and came of age around the millennium — are not affiliated with any faith tradition, Pew found. They characterize their religion as “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular.”

That compares to fewer than one in five Generation Xers — Americans born from 1965 to 1980 — who were unaffiliated with a religion when they were in their late teens and early 20s. [more]

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Study

Introduction and Overview

By some key measures, Americans ages 18 to 29 are considerably less religious than older Americans. Fewer young adults belong to any particular faith than older people do today. They also are less likely to be affiliated than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations were when they were young. Fully one-in-four members of the Millennial generation – so called because they were born after 1980 and began to come of age around the year 2000 – are unaffiliated with any particular faith. Indeed, Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their life cycle (20% in the late 1990s) and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults (13% in the late 1970s). Young adults also attend religious services less often than older Americans today. And compared with their elders today, fewer young people say that religion is very important in their lives.

Yet in other ways, Millennials remain fairly traditional in their religious beliefs and practices. Pew Research Center surveys show, for instance, that young adults’ beliefs about life after death and the existence of heaven, hell and miracles closely resemble the beliefs of older people today. Though young adults pray less often than their elders do today, the number of young adults who say they pray every day rivals the portion of young people who said the same in prior decades. And though belief in God is lower among young adults than among older adults, Millennials say they believe in God with absolute certainty at rates similar to those seen among Gen Xers a decade ago. This suggests that some of the religious differences between younger and older Americans today are not entirely generational but result in part from people’s tendency to place greater emphasis on religion as they age. [more]

Please click here to download the whole Pew Foundations Millenials Report.