A lot of research has come out recently pointing to the fact that more and more young millennials are moving toward identification as “religiously unaffiliated.” The researchers often conclude that this means these young people are making a mass exodus from faith of their childhood. But are the conclusions being drawn from these statistics accurate, or might there be a better explanation?
By Dylan Pahman, Acton Institute
Joe Carter recently posted a summary of a new study conducted jointly by Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs that shows that college-age millennials (18-24 year olds) “report significant levels of movement from the religious affiliation of their childhood, mostly toward identifying as religiously unaffiliated.” He also noted the tendency of college-aged millennials to be more politically liberal.
Recently, the same study was highlighted by Robert Jones of the Washington Post, who wrote,
According to a newly released survey, even before they move out of their childhood homes, many younger millennials have already moved away from the religion in which they were raised, mostly joining the growing ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.
Jones goes on to say, “These findings have profound implications for the future of religious denominations that have, in the past, dominated American religious life.”
But is this true? I am not entirely convinced.
Aren’t college-aged people in all generations less orthodox, less religious, and more politically liberal and idealistic than any other age group? Take, for example, the following comments from a 1973 article by Robert Wuthnow and Charles Glock in the Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion: