One of the largest studies on religious beliefs in American youth has just been released. It revealed that change in culture is strongly influencing lower religious involvement.
As the above figure illustrates, the gap between teens and their parents’ religious affiliation is widening. Since 2000, there has been a steep decline in religious “nones” (those that do not claim adherence to any religion). Between 2000 and 2013:
- 87% more college students claim no religious affiliation.
- 50% more 12th graders claim no religious affiliation.
- 43% more 10th graders claim no religious affiliation.
As the chart below reveals, girls, whites, and those living in the Northeast had the largest decline in religious affiliation.
The trend of religious decline affects all demographic groups, except possibly for African Americans.
The authors of the study present some possible explanations for the decline in religious orientation:
- An increase in individualism. This is characterized by focusing less on religious adherence and more on the self. Dr. Twenge, one of the researchers, stated, “Individualism puts the self first, which doesn’t always fit well with the commitment to the institution and other people that religion often requires.” She added, “when people become deeply involved in religious faith, they may be committing to a value system that may bring some costs to the self – albeit with the hope of benefiting others.”
- An increasing acknowledgment that religion is inconsistent with science. The researchers said it is possible that “debates about teaching creationism or intelligent design in U.S. schools, such as those in Kansas in 2005, pushed some young people away from religion.”
- Increasing religious pluralism in the U.S. “This could also result in the questioning or minimizing of all faiths”, the study suggested.
- Increase in online activities. The study stated that “a generation of “digital natives” heavily involved in online activities might simply have been less interested in religious teachings.”
What other possible explanations do you see for the decline in religious orientation in American youth?
Source: Jean M. Twenge, et. al. (2015). Generational and Time Period Differences in American Adolescents’ Religious Orientation, 1966–2014. May 11, 2015 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0121454