Sunday, October 14, 2012

Young Adults Less Religious

Growing numbers of Americans are not affiliated with a religion, according to a Pew survey. Nearly 20 percent of the population (19.6 percent) reported no religious affiliation in 2012. Compare that figure to the one reported four decades ago by the General Social Survey: in 1972, only 5 percent of the population had no religious affiliation.

What explains the rise? The most important factor is generational replacement, with younger generations less likely than older adults to identify with a religion. Fully 32 percent of people aged 18 to 29 have no religious affiliation, finds the Pew survey. This compares with 21 percent of 30-to-49-year-olds, 15 percent of 50-to-64-year-olds, and just 9 percent of people aged 65 or older.

American society is becoming increasingly secular, with each succeeding generation of young adults less likely than its predecessor to affiliate with a religion. Forty years ago in 1972, only 10 percent of young adults aged 18-to-29 had no religious affiliation. That figure has more than tripled over the decades. Aging does not appear to boost religious affiliation, either. If you track one cohort over the decades using General Social Survey data, the 10 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds who had no religious affiliation in 1972 grew to 16 percent of 56-to-67-year-olds in 2010 (the latest GSS year available).

Source: Pew Research Center, "Nones" on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation; and General Social Survey

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