Faith Of Our Fathers? Survey Says Not So Much

Filed under: In The News

Young Americans are less religious than their parents, a new study shows. Credit: Corbis


"Faith of our fathers, holy faith, we shall be true to thee 'til death."

Maybe so. Maybe no. The old hymn might not ring true anymore.

A study released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life concludes that young Americans are significantly less religious than their fathers, mothers and grandparents.

Pew researchers interviewed more than 35,000 Americans about their religious views.
They found one in four "millennials" (that is, people born after 1980 who came of age around the millennium) characterize themselves as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular. Fewer than one in five members of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) expressed similar religious doubts when they were in their early 20s.

Only 13 percent of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) were unaffiliated with a religious tradition when they were young adults, according to the survey and comparison with past data.

None of this means the younger generation doesn't have a prayer.

In fact, 45 percent of the millennials surveyed say they pray daily -- about the same percentage as generations past. They also believe in an afterlife and concepts such as heaven, hell and miracles at roughly the same percentages.

"While growing numbers of people are unaffiliated, it's not necessarily a sign that they're committed secularists," Greg Smith, a senior researcher at the Pew Forum, tells CNN. "We're seeing among young people that there are ways of practicing faith and being religious outside" of church.

Roughly two in three millennials surveyed say they believe in God with absolute certainty, similar to the number of Gen Xers who reported such certainty about God a decade ago.

People tend to get more religious as they get older, Pew researchers tell CNN. A third of baby boomers attend church at least once a week these days. Only a quarter of them did in the 1970s, according to Pew.

The Rev. J. Hill Jr. of New York's Riverside Church admits to CNN that church can be a hard sell sometimes for young folk. But he tells the news network he gets a big response when he rallies young people to help Hurricane Katrina victims in Louisiana.

"Church is difficult because young people today want to engage actively," Hill tells CNN. "They just want to experience God."

Related: How the Recession Made Me More Religious

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