A new “American values survey” by the Pew Research Center gives some good news about faith: it’s weakening in America’s youth. (You can get the full report here; the religion and social values analysis begins on p. 67.) 3008 adults were sampled by telephone according to what seems a pretty good protocol. A quick summary of the data, though, is best seen here, and you can click on the tabs on the right side to divide up the data by sex, race, age, income, and so on. On the left you can look at the different questions. Three are religious, involving agreement or disagreement with 1) “Prayer is an important part of my daily life”; 2) “All will be called before God on Judgment Day to answer for our sins”; 3) “I never doubt the existence of God.” In all three cases the youngest people show less faith than their elders. though over the last 25 years belief has been pretty static in the older cohorts.
Individuals were divided into five age classes:
- Millennials: 1981+
- Gen X: 1965-1980
- Boomers 1946-1964
- Silent generation: 1928-1945
- Greatest generation: born before 1928
The confidence intervals vary, of course, but the survey’s appendix shows that the 95% confidence intervals for these data are probably around plus or minus 2 – 4%.
There’s a report and data from TPM (“Talking points memo“), a political website:
The younger generation is abandoning God in droves.
A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that belief in the existence of God has dropped 15 points in the last five years among Americans 30 and under.
Pew, which has been studying the trend for 25 years, finds that just 68 percent of millennials in 2012 agree with the statement “I never doubt the existence of God.” That’s down from 76 percent in 2009 and 83 percent in 2007.
Among other generations, belief in God is high and has seen few changes in recent decades. Between 81 and 89 percent of older generations say they never doubt the existence of God, although the older the generation, the more likely they are to believe in God.
The chart below reflects the Pew survey’s latest findings.
The results suggest that a new movement of atheist or agnostic thinking during the the last decade — spearheaded by high-profile authors like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris — is steering younger people away from traditional beliefs long held by their parents.
The trend was also reflected in declining numbers of millennials who agreed with the statements “Prayer is an important part of my daily life” and “We all will be called before God at the Judgment Day to answer for our sins.” Answers to those questions also didn’t change much among older generations.
Here’s the Pew plot for the importance of prayer (note: the colors differ from those used in the TMP plot, so check the key). Again, there’s stasis in the older generations but a drop in faith (granted, less pronounced than seen above) among “millennials.”
And the plot for the judgment day question, showing the same trend.
Pew summarizes the data for the “God” question (and the two others) as follows:
As a result, the gap between the oldest Americans—the Silent generation – and the youngest, which was just six points in 2007, has increased to 21 points today (89% of Silent generation vs. 68% of Millennials) There have been smaller declines in the percentages of Millennials agreeing to the other two statements about core religious beliefs – the personal importance of prayer and belief in a Judgment Day. Still, just 55% of Millennials agree with all three religious values; among older age cohorts, two-thirds or more agree with all three religion statements.
Is this a real trend among young people? I think so, for I’ve always felt that the secularization of America is inevitable, and will follow the pattern of Europe. These data, though, show that it’s proceeding faster than I envisioned. But perhaps the young people will become more religious as they age, a trend that’s been seen in some surveys. Nevertheless, I think this is cause for a bit of celebration.
Is the trend due to the efforts of the New Atheists, as Pew suggests? We don’t know for sure, of course, but the declines begin around 2007, when The End of Faith, The God Delusion, and God is Not Great had all been published. Now surely lots of these a-religious youth haven’t read those books, but some have, and at any rate those books have helped promote a climate in which it’s less shameful to be seen as a nonbeliever. It’s only my guess, but I think those books contributed to the erosion of faith among the young. If true, that in turn shows what most of us feel: it’s far more useful to appeal to young people, who may be on the fence about faith, than to try to convert their already brainwashed elders.
All of us who dislike religion and love evolution should be happy about this trend if it’s real. For acceptance of evolution will follow unbelief as the night follows day. The only people who will mourn this trend will be those misguided faitheists and accommodationists who have an unshakable belief that religion is somehow good for the masses, even if they don’t buy it themselves. Expect to see some blog posts taking issue with the Pew Survey.
There’s a long way to go, of course: nearly 70% of “millennials” still say that they never doubt the existence of God.