New Pew poll: Respect for religion drops sharply among Millennials

January 6, 2016 • 10:00 am

A brief report at Pew Research shows at least one statistic of interest to nonbelievers: American Millennials (people born after 1980) have shown a big drop in only the last five years in how favorably they view religion and its effects. As they report (see graph below):

Younger generations tend to have more-positive views than their elders of a number of institutions that play a big part in American society. But for some institutions – such as churches and the news media – Millennials’ opinions have become markedly more negative in the past five years.

Since 2010, Millennials’ rating of churches and other religious organizations has dipped 18 percentage points: 55% now say churches have a positive impact on the country compared with five years ago, when nearly three-quarters (73%) said this. Views among older generations have changed little over this time period. As a result, older generations are now more likely than Millennials – who are much less likely than their elders to be religious – to view religious organizations positively.

As Pew noted, the views of older age groups about religion didn’t change much, but the approval rating of “silents” actually rose 7%, as one might expect given that older Americans are more religious.  There are also data on falling respect for news media and rising respect for banks, labor unions, businesses, and large corporations, but you can go to the report to see those “trends”.

Pew defines generation X as those now between 35 and 50, Boomers between ages 51 to 70, and Silents as those older than 70. Here are the data:


That comports with a Pew study from December showing that many more Millennials than older folks see Christmas as a cultural than as a religious holiday:


What does it mean? To me, an increasing secularization of America as fewer young people buy into established faith. It’s especially heartening that only a little more than half of Millennials see churches and religious organizations as having a positive effect on the U.S., and that the drop over the last five years was so large .

h/t: Les

19 thoughts on “New Pew poll: Respect for religion drops sharply among Millennials

  1. This is consistent with this year’s freshman class at Princeton. When surveyed, about 40% classified themselves as some variant on the theme of “none.”

    I also don’t know what it means long term, but I find it encouraging.

  2. I’m a little wary on seeing a swing from ‘biggest supporters’ to ‘lowest supporters.’ I suspect high volatility and regression to the mean. I guess we will have to wait for the 2020 data point to be sure, but I’d also guess that the third point will not be on a straight negative slope line with the first two. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a sawtooth-like uptick.

  3. My son is eleven and a half and I showed him a comedy skit (Mrs. Brown turning away two Mormons) that illustrated the incredulity of Noah’s Arc.

    My son asked, “Who is Noah?”

    1. To my best recollection, my first awakening to religious doubt was questioning the sunday school teacher’s rainbow story — I’d just read about prisms and such in a random plunge into an encyclopedia, already was familiar with rainbows relationship to the sun, and couldn’t see how you could rain and sunshine without making a rainbow.

      I was probably about eight. Found evolution in the same encyclopedias soon after and never looked back!

    2. Exactly. My son who is now 28 has never gone to church and the only religious friend he’s ever had, had parents who were Born Agains. There’s a lack of exposure to children of Bboomers and Gen Xers because most of us have better things to do.
      Of course that’s my biased opinion.

  4. It would have been interesting if they did some qualitative interviews to try get some suggestions of what changed minds. Possibly recent religious opposition to the extension of marriage to same-sex couples?

    1. The millenials I know all cite the reaction of churches to same-sex marriage as their #1 reason for opposition. The same-sex marriage thing actually hasn’t been a big deal in NZ either – quite early on the churches that opposed it recognized their stance was driving people away and most decided not to continue the fight. Still, millenials saw enough to be disgusted.

  5. Informal contact with various Millenials near me reveal low religiosity, coupled with a high degree of concern for various social justice issues.

    Oh… and a high degree of anti-science, anti-evidence, alt-med, conspiracy nuttery.

  6. We need to see if the growth of secularism among millennials translates into votes for secularist candidates. In the meantime, the faithful become more agitated and more likely to turn out and vote for the Republican party, i.e., the party of religion.

    So, if the millennials do not translate their private secularist beliefs into action at the polling booth (including on the state and local level) then, ironically, the political and social consequences in this nation may get worse, at least in the short term.

  7. I think we need to see more than a poll to get very encouraged. Being the sceptic and pessimist I just do not hold much simply from a poll. Maybe if I did not live in the middle of religious country mush I would feel better about it.

  8. Strange that with such a drop in respect for religion by millennials that the other three age groups would all show an increase.

  9. Some of the so-called “Silent Generation” (including this one) has become braver and more vocal in the senior years.

    The Anglican Church in England and the Catholic Church in Germany are experiencing such a reduction in membership and attendance that they have taken extraordinary measures to increase the flock. Advertising for the Anglicans and misrepresentation of membership by the Catholics.

    We may be diminishing in religiosity in the post-industrial countries but are becoming increasingly evangelical in other countries due to excessive emphasis on spreading the word of god to the heathen. That has spread HIV, an excess of children, greater hatred of gays, etc.

  10. It would be interesting to see if an explicit choice was given for “Xmas is more a Commercial holiday” in the poll how many of those who selected “Other” would have chosen it.

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