Millennials May Be The Least Religious Generation, And It's Not Because They're Young

A new study says that millennials are the least religious generation in at least 60 years—and possibly ever. This makes the future of religion in the United States an open question.

Why It's Important

Does this scenario sound familiar? Your parents are religious and you grew up going to church regularly. Most of your friends were in the same boat. It wasn't until you left home that you even questioned your spiritual upbringing. Now, you're wary of organized religion in general and consider yourself agnostic, or even atheist. According to an extensive 2015 study led by San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge, millennials are possibly the least religious generation in the nation's history. This means that America's religious landscape is rapidly evolving.

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Why People Are Talking About It

The study analyzed data from four national surveys of 11.2 million respondents between the ages of 13 and 18 spanning six decades (1966 to 2014). It showed that millennials are not only less religious and less approving of religious organizations than Baby Boomers and Gen Xs were at their age, but are also less spiritual in general. Twenge explained to that their study design showed more than ever before. "Unlike previous studies, ours is able to show that millennials' lower religious involvement is due to cultural change, not to millennials being young and unsettled." What does she have to back up this claim?

For starters, a rising number of adolescents report dropping religion before they ever reach adulthood or not being raised with religion at all. One revealing statistic shows that twice as many 12th graders and three times as many college students put "none" when asked their religion in the 2010s as compared to young people in the 1970s. The study also found that girls were moving away from religion more than boys, and there was very little change for black teens (they're still significantly more religious than white teens).

Twenge insists that Americans are experiencing a cultural shift towards secularism as a whole: less people are getting involved with religion or getting married. Where does this leave the future of religion on a national level? "Eventually," Twenge tells KPBS News, "the United States is going to end up looking like Northern Europe—where marriage is optional and religious involvement is fairly low."

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Written by Curiosity Staff December 15, 2016

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