In what really should not come as a shock to Americans, a new study from San Diego State University is showing that the millennial generation is the least religious generation in at least 60 years. This is quite possibly the largest study conducted on changes in the religious involvement of Americans, and the results could mean millennials are the least religious in our nation’s history.
The study was led by psychology professor Jean M. Twenge, but also included researchers Ramya Sastry from San Diego State University, Julie J. Exline and Joshua B. Grubbs from Case Western Reserve University, and W. Keith Campbell from the University of Georgia. The researchers analyzed data from 11.2 million different respondents from four nationally representative surveys of adolescents in the United States. The adolescents in these surveys were between the ages of 13 to 18 when the studies were taken, which was between 1966 and 2014.
The results of the data showed that the more recent group of teenagers are less likely to say that religion is an important part of their lives, with a reported less approval rating of religious organizations. The teenagers also reported being less spiritual overall, with less time being devoted to things such as praying and meditating. The study results were published in the PLOS ONE journal in May.
What is different in terms of this study from other studies in the past was that this study was able to show how the millennial generation has become less involved in religious activities due to a cultural change. Previous studies have alluded to millennials just being unsettled and young, but this study is showing that not being religious is actually a cultural thing as opposed to just the “kids being kids” stereotype. The millennial generation is less religious than Generation X or the Baby Boomers were at the same point in their lives. This study is also different than previous studies because this study has also included people of a younger age group. The study showed that a lot of the millennial generation was raised without religion in the home at all, and the ones who were brought up religious abandoned it before they reached adulthood.
When you look at the late 1970’s compared to now, there are twice as many 12th graders and college students who have never attended a religious service. 75 percent more 12th graders now also say religion is “not important at all” in their lives, which is a huge change from the 1970s and 1980s. Twice as many high school seniors said “none” in a 2010 question about their religious affiliation when compared to the early 1980s. Three times as many college students ended up saying “none” on the same 2010 question than back in the 1980s. When you look at the 1990s, 20 percent less college students are describing themselves as above average in terms of spirituality. This part of the study is suggesting that religion is not being replaced by spirituality for the millennial generation, which is something previous studies have suggested.
Twenge noted that the results of the study could be do to the millennial generation looking more at individualism and a “me” culture. The mindset of the millennial generation is all about putting themselves ahead of others or ahead of a group, which means the individuals ideologies might not be matching up very well with a religious institutions ideologies. The individualism aspect is growing though beyond the millennial generation, seemingly becoming a part of American culture with various age groups and ethnicity types. As more people in America look toward individualism as the future, less people are committing themselves to a religion where everyone is expected to act and feel the same way in every situation.
As more people take on this individualism ideology, it would not be shocking to see the next generation even less religious than the millennial generation. It would also not be shocking if more people, even older people, start denouncing their faith and becoming non-religious or atheist in order to get away from conforming to a goal or ideology of an organization. An argument could also be made that the more socially progressive America gets, the less likely it is that people will want to conform or identify with a religion, since a lot of religions are against the progressive mindset that America is now embracing.