Millenials retain faith
By Cathy Lynn Grossman
Young adults today are less church-connected than prior generations were when they were in their 20s. But a new study finds they're just about as spiritual as their parents and grandparents were at those ages.
Members of today's millennial generation, ages 18 to 29, are as likely to pray and believe in God as their elders were when they were young, says the report from Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
"They may be less religious, but they're not necessarily more secular" than the Generation Xers or baby boomers who preceded them, says Alan Cooperman, associate director of research.
The study, "Religion in the Millennial Generation," draws primarily on data from the 2008 Pew Religious Landscape Survey of 35,000 people and on the General Social Survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, which has measured aspects of religious affiliation and religiosity for decades.
Millennials are significantly more likely than young adults in earlier generations to say they don't identify with any religious group.
Among millennials, 26 percent cite no religious identity, compared with 20 percent for most members of Generation X (born 1965-1980) at the same ages, and 13 percent for most of the baby boomers (born 1946-1964) at those ages.
Worship attendance is sliding steadily, too: 18 percent of millennials say they attend worship nearly every week or more often, versus 21 percent of Gen Xers when they were in their 20s and 26 percent of boomers at those ages.
Neither are millennials any more likely than earlier generations to turn toward a faith affiliation as they grow older.
"Where people start is where they end up, or if they move, it's away from religious ties, but they tend not to move on beliefs," Cooperman says.
Yet "by several important measures, millennials often look a lot like their elders now and earlier generations when they were young," says Pew senior researcher Greg Smith.
• 40 percent say religion is very important in their lives, similar to 39 percent of boomers at the same ages.
• 41 percent report praying daily, like 42 percent of Gen Xers as young adults.
• 53 percent are "certain God exists;" 55 percent of Gen Xers were certain at the same ages.
The study finds that as people age, they are more likely to say religion is very important in their lives, and they pray more frequently.
In the late 1970s, when most boomers were in their 20s or early 30s, 39 percent said religion was very important in their lives. Thirty years later, 60 percent of boomers say so.
In the early 1980s, 47 percent of baby boomers who were young adults at the time said they prayed daily. But 25 years later, 62 percent of this same group say they pray daily.