Millennials are naturally unlike any other previous American generation, and they’re having a profound influence on American religious life. 4 in 10 now say they are religiously unaffiliated, according to the Pew Research Center. Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) are now almost as likely to say they have no religion as they are to identify as Christian. Let’s be honest, this is not a huge shocker.
For a long time, it wasn’t clear whether this defection from religion would be momentary or permanent. Many researchers believed that as millennials grew older, some would return to a more traditional pious life. But there’s now growing evidence that today’s younger generations are pretty much done with organized religion. I mean why would today’s “youth” want to identify with an arguably more restrictive lifestyle.
Social science research has previously suggested that Americans’ relationship with religion has a tidal quality — people who were raised religious drift away as young adults, only to be drawn back in when they find partners and begin to raise their own families.
A lot of millennials never had strong ties to religion to begin with, which means they were less likely to develop customs or associations that make them want to return to a religious community. Changing views about the relationship between morality and religion also has persuaded many young parents that religious institutions are simply irrelevant or unnecessary for their children. 17 percent of millennials said that they were not raised in any particular religion compared with only five percent of Baby Boomers. And fewer than one in three (32 percent) millennials say they attended weekly religious services with their family when they were young, compared with about half (49 percent) of Baby Boomers.
A parent’s religious identity (or lack thereof) will do a lot to shape a child’s religious habits and beliefs later in life. 84 percent of people raised by Protestant parents are still Protestant as adults. People raised without religion are less apt to look for it as they grow older — that same Pew study found that 63 percent of people who grew up with two religiously unaffiliated parents were still nonreligious as adults.
Young adults are also increasingly likely to have a spouse who is nonreligious, which helps strengthen their secular worldview – a process that may have been accelerated by the sheer number of secular romantic partners available, and the rise of online dating. Today, 74 percent of unaffiliated millennials have a nonreligious partner or spouse, while only 26 percent have a partner who is religious.
Lastly, a majority (57 percent) of millennials agree that religious people are generally less tolerant of others, compared to only 37 percent of Baby Boomers.