Pew dissects U.S. “Millennials” on issues of faith and culture

February 17, 2010

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has just issued a report that examines issues of faith and culture among Americans between the age of 18 and 29 — a demographic group that has been dubbed the “Millennials” because most came of age around 2000. You can see our story here and the report here.

A couple of things come to mind. One is the finding that Millennials were far more likely than their elders from “Generation X” and the “Baby Boom” to be unaffiliated with a specific faith. In the context of recent American history, Generation X was born between 1965 and 1980, while Baby Boomers flooded the country from 1946 to 1964.

The report found one-in-four American Millennials unaffiliated with any specific faith, compared to 20 percent of Generation Xers at a comparable point in their lives (the late 1990s). Only 13 percent of Baby Boomers were religiously “unaffiliated” in the late 1970s when they were roughly the age Millennials are now.


There are some U.S. religious conservatives who will no doubt sound the alarm and point to these numbers as yet another example of moral decline. But one striking thing about the number is that, as the appendix at the end of the report makes clear, three in four young American adults are affiliated with a religious faith. I would guess that such a figure would be far higher than a comparable one for, say, many countries in western Europe. Such a comparison could be instructive, if the data were available.

The report is also just the latest to highlight the generation chasm that exists on the issue of gay rights. For example, the report said that Pew’s massive 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey found young adults to be almost twice as likely to say homosexuality should be accepted by society as those 65 and older, 63 percent versus 35 percent.

On the issue of abortion rights — the hottest of the hot-button topics in America — the report had some intriguing findings. I think it’s worth quoting the report here:

Roughly half of young adults (52%) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. On this issue, young adults express slightly more permissive views than do adults ages 30 and older. However, the group that truly stands out on this issue is people 65 and older, just 37% of whom say abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Interestingly, this pattern represents a significant change from earlier polling. Previously,people in the middle age categories (i.e., those ages 30-49 and 50-64) tended to be more supportive of legal abortion, while the youngest and oldest age groups were more opposed. In 2009, however, attitudes toward abortion moved in a more conservative direction among most groups in the population, with the notable exception of young people. The result of this conservative turn among those in the 30-49 and 50-64 age brackets means that their views now more closely resemble those of the youngest age group, while those in the 65-and-older group now express the most conservative views on abortion of any age group.”

What do you think this means for this polarizing issue going forward?

The report drew on recent Pew surveys to paint a portrait of emerging generation gaps among Millennials and other demographics. It uses older surveys by Gallup and others to compare the views of age groups at different times in recent history.

(Photo: People pray at the Bella Vista Assembly of God church in Bella Vista, Arkansas, November 8, 2009. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

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