Religious organisations are losing their teenagers, according to a new report. Teens and young adults from the Millennial generation are not only less religious than previous generations, they are less spiritual as well, the study warns. The exceptions are the black communities and political conservatives.
The report challenges the received wisdom that Millennials, who followed Generation X, remain interested in a spiritual dimension even when they have rejected organised religion.
They are instead more likely to be part of the emerging “nones” group, identifying with others who write “none” on surveys and forms when asked to state their religion.
The study shows that Millennials have less approval of religious organisations than previous generations, are less likely to say that religion is important in their lives, are less spiritual and spend less time praying or meditating.
Collating data on 11 million adolescents from several national surveys covering 1966 to 2014, Jean Twenge, of San Diego State University, and others write in an academic article for the ‘Plos One’ journal that a decline in religious orientation suggests a move toward secularism by a growing minority.
The decline is largest among girls, whites and in the Northeastern United States. It is far smaller among black Americans and non-existent among political conservatives. There is also less religion among families with higher incomes, among people who have more positive views of themselves and among people who need low levels of social support.
“American adolescents in the 2010s are significantly less religiously oriented, on average, than their Boomer and Generation X predecessors were at the same age,” write Twenge and her colleagues. “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.”
Importantly, they continue, the declines also extend to the importance of religion, spirituality, and prayer. They say these effects are both smaller and more limited are not consistent with the idea that young Americans are less religious but not less spiritual.
American adolescents are now less likely to attend religious services. Compared to the early 1970s, more than twice as many college students in the 2010s never attended services, according to Twenge.
The study says the religious orientation of adolescents is important because religiosity is associated with a wide range of positive factors including fewer risk behaviours, better social functioning, less substance abuse and better physical health. Compared to other adolescents, religious adolescents also report less depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric concerns and display character strengths such as fidelity to their partners. However, religion can also drive feelings of shame and guilt over certain behaviours and can be a source of struggle and distress.
The academics also say the US is particularly interesting to study because its citizens are generally more religiously inclined than those of other Western nations.
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