Religion in America by Generation

Religion in America by Generation Public Religion Research Institute

That’s pretty much the message of this week’s graphic from the Public Religion Research Institute. What you’re looking at is the current religious layout by adult generations.

The news is that white evangelicals, mainliners, and Catholics go from 69 percent of those 65 and older to 25 percent of those 18 to 29. And the “unaffiliated” — i.e. those who say they have no religion — go from 11 percent of the over-65′s to 31 percent of the 18-29′s.

All other groups more or less hold their proportional positions except for Latino Catholics and Protestants, who go from six percent of the over-65′s to 17 percent of the 18-29′s.

There are some important political implications here. White evangelicals vote roughly 3-1 Republican, while Nones vote roughly 3-1 Democratic. And by generational cohort, the percentage of white evangelicals is inversely proportional to the percentage of Nones in the population. Assuming that generational political identification doesn’t change, the Nones will in due course have the throw-weight for the Democrats that the evangelicals have had for the Republicans over the past generation.

Add Mormons to the white evangelicals, mainliners, and Catholics and you get 71 percent of the over-65′s in majority-Republican ethno-religious traditions. Add up everyone else (except the two percent who won’t say or don’t know) and you get 70 percent in majority-Democratic ethno-religious traditions.

In other words, a generational freight train is bearing down on the GOP.

Categories: Beliefs

Beliefs:

Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

31 Comments

  1. I see some good news. The 18-29 year-old Jews are at 3-percent while older Jews are at just 2-percent. That’s good for us Jews, but I do acknowledge that most in the Jewish community vote Democrat. Considering Israel’s precarious situation and the Democratic party’s dismal recent record of helping the smaller groups of disenfranchised Americans, and helping the leadership of Iran and, by laziness, Syria, I don’t understand why we Jews are so gullible to left-leaning rants.

    • Could it be because Jews tend to think about their community and social justice and the GOP looks to everything else? I mean can you imagine Paul Ryan at your passover seder? He would have the wrong answer to why the night is so special…. It would probably be some blasphemy focused on himself. Elijah would have to come and fry him right there — (and he still wouldn’t get it.) ;-)

  2. Actually, a generational freight train is bearing down on all American Christians, and bearing down on America itself.

    Look for a national Train Wreck soon. This nation is in trouble.

    • The “train wreck” being those curmudgeon older Christian Fundamentalists will have to kiss up to less zealous Millennials if they don’t want to end up in the rest homes one sees on 60 Minutes. :)

    • The nation is coming out of a religious fog of myth and borderline insanity. This is the best news going. The rise of civilization has been powered by technology and science not prayer and belief.

    • The freight train has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with economics. The irrelevance of religion is a natural progression in a developed economy. 18 to 29 year olds are likely to become more and more resentful of the taking of wealth by the older cohort, and that’s the freight train. Religion is just the appendix of society now. Might cause limited disruption, but if cut out of society will cause no harm, and with out it a healthy society can thrive for many years.

  3. “Doc Anthony” has it right. Repentance is the only hope.

    Let we who call ourselves by the name of Christ return to Him – our first love. We have wandered far, far away.

    The broader culture is not going to repent of its licentiousness until and unless we repent of ours. Do we think it will help us to be more moral than society? God is not comparing us to society – He is comparing us to what we ought to be and to what we have promised to be.

    “To him who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” James 4:17

    • Blah blah blah, heard it all before. Christians, starting with the leader of the band JC himself, have been blabbing about the end since the very start of this sect. On that note I say, “let the train wreck begin!”

    • Nice try Mike, but quoting scripture isn’t altering the reality that religious affiliation is loosing ground to a plethora of alternatives for the under 40 cohort. And predicting the end of the world as we know is a failed marketing campaign at this point. Religious leaders might engage a marketing expert to update their product and message, else their business will continue to be disrupted by market forces beyond their control and comprehension. After all, they’re selling a product, and praying on it isn’t in any business plan I ever saw.

      • I don’t go to church, and I’d be pleased if the organized church ceased to be.

        I don’t believe that the end of the world is coming, but I do believe that the end of the U.S. as a place of liberty, opportunity, and blessing is coming – because our collective national behavior is becoming so unrighteous.

        I believe that everyone is going to heaven, but I also believe that how we live here will matter when we get there. Moreover, there’s a lot of human suffering that could be lessened here if there was more fear of God among us.

        Every two years abortion takes more lives than were lost in the entirety of the deadliest war in human history (WW2). Modern man wants to ignore such things so as not to be confronted with his own barbarism.

        • Access to contraception and abortion has correlated to declines in violent crime in our nation. Wars have become much less destructive than in the past. Total wars have not been fought between nations in more than half a century. Genocide is rapidly becoming a much rarer event than it was even a generation ago.

          Ironically despite your doom and gloom attitude, our current times have never been safer, less violent and more productive for the majority of humanity.

          The only exception being in places where religious fanatics are vying to control of civil society. People stumping for God, Allah, or the deity of their choice are doing the most damage to peace in the world right now. People trying to enforce “righteous behavior” by force. .

          • On the contrary, “People are trying to enforce ‘unrighteous behavior’ by force.” That’s what the contraception mandate and “gay marriage” are all about.

          • Except the people you refer to are actually making the world a better place. Making discrimination under the color of law one step closer to a distant memory. Not shackling women to religious notions which only serve to treat them like property.

            Frankly Mike you don’t have rational arguments against either of those things. That is the problem. The further we can have our laws from irrational, sectarian nonsense the better off everyone will be.

            The overwhelming majority of people who are making the world worse for everyone are those with beliefs like yours. Those who believe their religious ideas entitle them to treat others as less than human.

            If your biggest worry is that people will have access to contraception and gay marriage being recognized under the civil law, then you are just being whiny. There is plenty of things wrong in the world which need attention far more than those things. But it requires caring about the rest of humanity and going beyond your little religious inspired bubble.

          • The sexual freedom of which you are so proud has led to increasing numbers of children being born without a devoted mother and father. That percentage now exceeds 40% in the U.S. and the changes you favor witll cause it to only go higher.

            While the adults are having their fun, it is the children who ultimately pay the price.

            You don’t have to believe in God to recognize that the state has a compelling interest in supporting those decisions that give each child a secure environment through which to enter and grow up in the world.

          • You really don’t think your screeds through.

            If contraception and abortion are not so constantly opposed by self-righteous people like yourself, there would be fewer children to parents who were not ready to raise them. There would be fewer “shotgun marriages”.

            Marriages would have fewer and more planned out children. I don’t see the divorce rate as something bad. Marriage for its own sake is a recipe for disaster. The rate has been consistently dropping not because of moralistic Christian finger pointers, but because people are not rushing to get married as quickly as they used to. That “immoral sexual behavior” you decry allows people to put such things off until they have the education and means for families.

            Your God seems to want people to be ignorant, in poverty and willing to kill others on his behalf. Your God would deny children any parent because you insist that they be both male and female in church approved unions. Your God gladly wants kids to starve so rich people can save pocket money. So save me your hypocritical homilies about showing concern for people after they are born.

    • Mark Silk

      Such data can be compiled for the past decades. Historically, there is good evidence that Americans do become more connected with religion when they have children, i.e. get into their 30s. But that seems less the case in recent years. Generation X Catholics (born after 1965), for example, were highly identified with the church in their 20s, and have since become less so.

  4. samuel Johnston

    My daughter, age 35, educated, employed, and independent minded, is not atypical. She researches whatever interest her, and has quick access to the on line libraries of the world. She appears unimpressed with the unsubstantiated claims of religion, and instinctively resists arbitrary authority.
    The religions of belief have never been successful in a free marketplace without the aid of coercion, and there is no tolerant, voluntary historical model for them to adopt. That is why they are in free fall.
    A decade ago, I spent a couple of years among American Buddhists. They are the only spiritual group I see that is rapidly and successfully adapting to modernism. This is because they do not require belief and are tolerant. God talk and supernatural talk is rare, and in any case optional in most the American Buddhist adaptations.
    I am the most impressed that the biggest appeal is to the utility of the practices and not the
    “truth” of them except in the sense that the individual recognizes same.

  5. One of the nones.

    This is great news!

    Younger generations are starting to reject the obsolete, hateful, divisive dogmatic inheritance older generations seem so desperately attached to. Access to the internet allows younger folks to check facts and read more opinions beyond the ones they are indoctrinated with at an early age. That means they will end up as better critical thinkers in the future, with a healthy sense of skeptical analysis when claims are made with no real evidence beyond a single source (in this case, the Bible, Koran, Dianetics, etc).

    I think the only train wreck you’ll see here is the amount of church properties up for auction in the next 10-15 years as the older generations die off. Heck, there is already a noticeable drop in young folks at your respective churches, isn’t there? Even in my area there are billboards for local churches desperately trying to connect with younger folks; guilt trip them, pressure them into attending. In most European countries, where they’re already (usually?)10 years ahead of us in dropping religion, disused churches are mostly being turned into bars, clubs and librarys -ironically apropos.

    This will accelerate once churches have to operate within the confines of a 501c3 designation – which they should be under already. No ‘special rights’ for people you disagree with – but ‘special rights’ must be preserved for a special unconstitutional tax designation.

    Really, 30% is a low estimate for the younger generations’ ‘None’ category. Think of how many doubters feel pressure to answer ‘yes’ to a certain religious category due to legitimate fear of familial/social persecution for their lack of religion. They live in fear they would be tossed to the cold by their own families for simply not being convinced by magical claims in a book, and it happens every day.

    The true % of ‘Nones’ in the youngest age group is more likely 35-40+%, which simply accelerates the rate at which we can finally throw off the yoke of diminished national dialogue and fact avoidance due to politicians’ manipulative clinging to bronze age ‘morality’ as presented in the Bible.

    This is certainly exciting for the people who will have to deal with the inherited mess of corrupt financial institutions and failing ecosystems. We are in a real bind. Not with cheaply bandied ‘morality’ (all major crime indexes are falling worldwide if you’d care to look) but with failing systems – national, financial, religious and social – worldwide. The current systems are simply obsolete in the face of new technologies and material/financial realities. They may not know it yet, but you can see it if you’d look.

    Maladaptive ideas simply can’t survive the socio-economic evolution required to have a relatively peaceful and non-disruptive transition to the next system matrix of material/social equilibrium.

    There was never a talking snake guys, and I think you largely know it. Lets move on and have a real discussion about population growth. Lets have a mature conversation about our environment. Lets have a real discussion about human rights, about greed, about fairness. And most importantly, lets talk about the best way to do something about them.

    But, you see, we can’t. We can’t because religions (or more precisely, the people who believe them) shut off the course of useful debate before it even begins. And you know it. And that is why it is a matter of survival of the species that religion as it currently exists, disappear as a significant force.

    You see, we know that the Rapture isn’t coming. We have plenty to live for, and we want our kids and their kids (and so on) to have a chance to know peace, happiness and abundance. The short term cynical thinking by apocalypse-obsessed preachers, their followers and the politicians they influence is a real and present danger to finding – or even caring in the first place (who cares about pollution because Jeesus is coming!) proactive realistic solutions to real fact based problems.

    When you find your religion on the losing side of history for the last 150 years (slavery, interracial marriage, treatment of homosexuals, Gay marriage) it really shouldn’t be a surprise when your relevence and perceived legitimacy start to flag.

    Luckily, time and momentum is on our side.

    Thanks for reading.

    PS. I’m a mid 30′s working class family man. Raised Catholic, figured out it was likely bull when I was 10-11 years old. No one in my family is really religious anymore.

    • Earold Gunter

      One of the nones, Well written, and truthful. I’m in my mid 50′s and figured it out in my early 20′s. I like to think of this as social evolution, driven by, as you point out, unprecedented access to information via the internet. Knowledge is a powerful thing.

      Religion is poison!!

    • Imagine how much good can be done with charitable donations directed to specific uses, instead clerical salaries, religious facilities and monuments, and largely ceremonial services that do little more than provide a cash flow opportunity to clergy. I mean really, what poor hungry person was ever made wealthier or fed in a religious service ? Pu-lease…. There is no more empty promise than the eternal life and redemtion promised by religion. OPIATE OF THE MASSES……

    • David Lloyd-Jones

      Oneof,

      Sorry, the Rapture already happened. January 3, 1953. America’s Christians were spirited away in the middle of the night, so they wouldn’t crash their cars or anything.

      Both of them.

      -dlj.

  6. I think that the Democrats are going to become the most powerful political party in the United States of America with white Christian Republicans becoming a sizable minority of the voting electorate in America. For Republicans to succeed in future elections, they will need to increase their appeal among non-white Christians and the nonreligious. Many nonreligious people I know are Libertarian politically or have Libertarian leanings. Check out this link: http://publicreligion.org/research/2013/10/2013-american-values-survey/. If the GOP works harder to appeal to Libertarian/Libertarian-leaning voters, then they would win more votes in future elections.

  7. Regarding the state of churches in America, I think the churches need to do more to reach out the religiously nonaffiliated. However this can only be done on an intellectual level and not on an emotional level. People who become nonreligious do so because they are not finding anything of substance to “hold on to” from the mainline Christian denominations. They are not finding anything of substance because mainline denominations are not spending enough time discussing the essentials of the Christian faith and how to live it out in one’s life. Instead, these mainline denominations are often preaching a “feel-good” Gospel that makes it seem like Christianity is all about emotions and nothing more. We need to resurrect the writings of Christian apologists like C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and John Henry Newman and convey their teachings to the people through solid homiles and sermons. The teachings need to be conveyed to those listening in a way that relates to them in today’s modern environment. This is how mainline churches will be able to win back the nonaffiliated religious crowd to Christianity. I know this because I used to be nonreligious until I read the works of orthodox Christian apologists and now I am a convert to the Catholic Christian faith!

  8. samuel Johnston

    “The teachings need to be conveyed to those listening in a way that relates to them in today’s modern environment.”
    So what are the teachings that need to be modernized?
    1. There is a creator God
    2. He cares about you as an individual
    3. You can have eternal life if you follow the guidance of the Church
    4. God gave the Holy Mother Church power over his creation?
    (be advised that my formulation of #4 will be contested by any priest, i.e Holy Spirit et al.)
    Did you study Church History? Has the Church been a Good Shepherd? Was the Reformation an unnecessary disruption of God’s plan? Are the unbelievers merely uninformed?

    So you find the writings of C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and John Henry Newman convincing?

    Have you bothered yourself to become acquainted with William of Ockham, Immanuel Kant, Charles Darwin, or Mark Twain? Have you read the THE OATH AGAINST MODERNISM
    Given by His Holiness Pope St. Pius X September 1, 1910? Modernism IS the enemy!

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