May 12, 2015

Millennials increasingly are driving growth of ‘nones’

Generational Replacement and the Rise of the Unaffiliated

For years, surveys have indicated that members of the youngest generation of adults in the U.S. are far less likely than older Americans to identify with a religious group. But a major new Pew Research Center survey finds that, as time goes on, the already-large share of religiously unaffiliated Millennial adults is increasing significantly.

A high percentage of younger members of the Millennial generation – those who have entered adulthood in just the last several years – are religious “nones” (saying they are atheists or agnostics, or that their religion is “nothing in particular”). At the same time, an increasing share of older Millennials also identify as “nones,” with more members of that group rejecting religious labels in recent years.

Overall, 35% of adult Millennials (Americans born between 1981 and 1996) are religiously unaffiliated. Far more Millennials say they have no religious affiliation compared with those who identify as evangelical Protestants (21%), Catholics (16%) or mainline Protestants (11%).

Although older generations also have grown somewhat more religiously unaffiliated in recent years, Millennials remain far more likely to identify as religious “nones.” The 35% of Millennials who do not identify with a religion is double the share of unaffiliated Baby Boomers (17%) and more than three times the share of members of the Silent generation (11%).

Unaffiliated Make Up Growing Share Across GenerationsFully 36% of the youngest members of the Millennial generation – those between the ages of 18 and 24 when the survey was conducted in 2014 – eschew an affiliation with organized religion. This youngest group was not eligible to be surveyed as adults during Pew Research’s initial Religious Landscape Study in 2007. But the older cohort of Millennials – those born between 1981 and 1989 – was surveyed that year, when they were ages 18-26. In 2007, 25% of this group identified as religious “nones.” Among this same cohort, now ages 25-33, the share of “nones” has increased 9 percentage points and now stands at 34%.

While some Millennials are leaving their childhood religion to become unaffiliated, most Millennials who were raised without a religious affiliation are remaining religious “nones” in adulthood. Two-thirds of Millennials who were raised unaffiliated are still unaffiliated (67%), a higher retention rate than most other major religious groups – and much higher than for older generations of “nones.”

It is possible that more Millennials who were raised unaffiliated will begin to identify with a religion as they get older, get married and have children, but previous Pew Research Center studies suggest that generational cohorts typically do not become more religiously affiliated as they get older. And the new survey finds that most generational cohorts actually are becoming less religiously affiliated as they age.

Topics: Generations and Age, Millennials, Religious Affiliation, Religiously Unaffiliated

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is an editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

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53 Comments

  1. Anonymous5 days ago

    Nothing astonishing! To be expected, I believe. Evangelical churches (fundamentalists included) have gone quiet. They are weak in apologetics, seeming to bank on the worship service to retain youth in the church. “The church,” they understand to be the building, the sanctuary – rather than the kingdom (reign) of God. They think the Good News (gospel) to be that of redemption and a ticket for heaven acquired by a repetition of the sinner’s prayer and maybe even baptism. The “good news” is “You’re in now, Brother- even if you mess up. See you later…in heaven; ‘Bye now!”
    And Daddy says: “Well now that’s settled! Now son …have you decided what you’ll be doing after high school? You know dentistry pays big bucks. Study. Get good marks. Get a scholarship like I did. That’s what’s important for you now. Glad you are a christian.”

    “But Dad, I want to really get to know the bible. Jack, the youth leader is doing a course on the reasons underlying the christian faith ……”
    “You heard me boy!!!! You have other priorities. And your mother feels the same way. No …don’t ask her.”

    A Laodicean church has developed in the west. This church will never retain millennials. They are more likely to be attracted by ISIS. One the other hand … look at the church in Romania; see “Speranta Media” on YouTube or “Biserica Batista Speranta Oradea” on the same medium. Over 3/4 of the churches there have our missing demographic. Study them. Do what they are doing. And for sure read how Jesus described His ecclesia (His called out gang” that he predicted would tear down the gates of hell. … (not a gang of dentists.)

    Reply
  2. David Stillman2 months ago

    I’d thank God for these results, but I don’t believe He exists, so that would be awkward.

    I do believe that organized religion mankind’s greatest purveyor of hate, intolerance, fear, ignorance, and exclusivity.

    Reply
  3. Hal Horvath5 months ago

    I’m part of that 17% ‘unaffiliated’ baby boomers, and I wonder if my own *real* affiliation would even show up as an option in the questions.

    Like so many, I refuse to be affiliated with a denomination, precisely because I think denominations are man-made.

    Denominations are invalid, and I’ve thought this way for decades, and have met so many people, especially younger people, that have the same view.

    But God and Christ are real. So while I go to a church and it is authentic, I absolutely would not answer that I’m affiliated with that particular church (‘….name…’) — that would be wrong for me.

    I’m affiliated with Christ our Lord.

    So I’d have to answer as “nothing in particular”, which is a pretty poor catch-all category, especially when it bags around 16% of respondents….. (taking the Pew Poll from a year or two back without age grouping in which 23% were ‘unaffiliated’, of which only 3.1% identified as atheist and 4% as agnostic, leaving 16% as….??).

    Reply
  4. Qawii6 months ago

    Nothing astonishing! To be expected, I believe. Evangelical churches (fundamentalists included) have gone quiet. They are weak in apologetics, seeming to bank on the worship service to retain youth in the church. “The church,” they understand to be the building, the sanctuary – rather than the kingdom (reign) of God. They think the Good News (gospel) to be that of redemption and a ticket for heaven acquired by a repetition of the sinner’s prayer and maybe even baptism. The “good news” is “You’re in now, Brother- even if you mess up. See you later…in heaven; ‘Bye now!”
    And Daddy says: “Well now that’s settled! Now son …have you decided what you’ll be doing after high school? You know dentistry pays big bucks. Study. Get good marks. Get a scholarship like I did. That’s what’s important for you now. Glad you are a christian.”

    “But Dad, I want to really get to know the bible. Jack, the youth leader is doing a course on the reasons underlying the christian faith ……”
    “You heard me boy!!!! You have other priorities. And your mother feels the same way. No …don’t ask her.”

    A Laodicean church has developed in the west. This church will never retain millennials. They are more likely to be attracted by ISIS. One the other hand … look at the church in Romania; see “Speranta Media” on YouTube or “Biserica Batista Speranta Oradea” on the same medium. Over 3/4 of the churches there have our missing demographic. Study them. Do what they are doing. And for sure read how Jesus described His ecclesia (His called out gang” that he predicted would tear down the gates of hell. … (not a gang of dentists.)

    Reply
  5. Don7 months ago

    What is happening is that people are more educated and have access to the truth. All religions were inventions of man and used for controlling the masses. It is increasingly harder to pull the wool over people’s eyes when they know the real truth, That all religions are myths.

    Reply
    1. JDBJR6 months ago

      That is such a cliche-ish’ statement that borders on ignorance it’s pathetic.

      Reply
  6. Jacob Trueman9 months ago

    Ah, the pride I feel for my generation. Freedom!

    Reply
  7. Keith1 year ago

    Any research that includes Mormans and Jehovah’s Witness as “Other Christian Groups” must be immediately deemed suspect.

    Reply
    1. Nate7 months ago

      I’m sorry, why is that? They are Christians as well…

      Reply
  8. Kelley Benson1 year ago

    Thank you for letting us see these results. It’s sad but it highlights the urgency we have to be diligent in sharing faith.

    Reply
  9. Velvet1 year ago

    Hmmm, is this the beginning of “The End of Faith”? The access to information has become the proverbial Achilles Heel of religion. The Church, and by extension the Bible, has to evolve with rapid change of society.

    Reply
    1. Mark S2 months ago

      Thats silly. Access to information has only clouded spirituality. Distraction is a mountain of data.

      You might as well worship a micro processor.

      Reply
  10. Ginny Staton1 year ago

    I wonder how many Protestants, are uneducated enough to not realize they are classified as Protestant. Also I wonder about people who consider themselves spiritual or religious in some way, but do not identify or gather with any group. For example, I am Panentheistic, so I am religious, but I have never met another Panentheistic, so though technically part if that group, I might feel compelled to answer as “none” because is kind of inbetween “other” and “none,” due to it not being a group type environment with gatherings like church services. I have also met many people who consider themselves “spiritual” but don’t have any religious group affiliation at all, so they would most likely feel compelled to say none. I feel this option should have been included.

    Reply
    1. Shaun1 year ago

      Pantheism and panentheism can be cosmological, philosophical, or theological positions, but never religions. It’s like saying “I am monotheistic, so I am religious, but I have never met another monotheist…” Doesn’t work that way bud.

      Now if you are panentheistic because you are Hindu (or a form of Taoist, Jain, etc.), then you are religious, but then you’d be Hindu, following Hindu practices with some type of group affiliation to other Hindus (family, church, etc.)
      You could also absolutely be a part of a liberal Quaker chapter, or a Unitarian Universalist church, etc. with your panentheist beliefs. That’d put you in the “Other Groups” category, which is also growing – or “Other Christian Groups” category.

      You are, unmistakenly, unaffiliated with any religion and thus correctly a “none”. It has nothing at all to do with your spiritual or other beliefs. Some of those other unaffiliated actually hold Christian concepts of the world, but that doesn’t make them a member of anything either.

      Some surveys do include “spiritual” often with the caveat “spiritual but not religious”. Some separate Atheist and Agnostic and Deist, etc. Just not this particular one. It has no intention on polling beliefs and no interest in the results of such. This research is very specifically concerned with Christian church attendance, a growing issue for Christians and a good topic to investigate this demographic shift and its consequences.

      Reply
      1. Rev. Felicity8 months ago

        I encourage you to study the work of the Celtic Christians, beginning with Pelagius. He was a devout follower of Christ — and a panentheist. So was St. Patrick. They just didn’t use the word, but they honored the theology.

        Reply
  11. Ginger McGraw1 year ago

    I am a boomer. My kids are millennials. When my kids were growing up instead of going to church, they all seemed to be playing soccer or other sports, or just sleeping in as it was the only day out of the week that they didn’t have to get up and run out the door at an early hour. The few that went to church, their parents seemed to pick out a church to go to for social status in the community. Perhaps Millenials aren’t going to church because they never got in the habit of doing so and/or they saw the hypocrisy.

    Reply
  12. Carmine1 year ago

    This begs the question of how these affiliations change throughout a person’s life. Maybe the Boomers and Gen-Xers had a similar distribution to the younger Millennials when they were in their 20s—? Many people seem to grow more conservative as they age.

    Reply
    1. Brian1 year ago

      Carmine, you should read the article again. It answers your question.

      Reply
    2. Jack Steffen5 months ago

      The story states that for the most part, people do not become more religious over time as they get older. In fact the majority of them become less religious and less likely to affiliate with a religious group. That’s what I got out of the article anyway

      Reply
  13. jeff1 year ago

    X is the best generation were cleaning up after the boomers and the millennials are to lazy to work
    Pfp.

    Reply
    1. Clement Cherlin1 year ago

      It’s incorrect, intellectualy lazy, and gratuitously insulting to refer to the generations that have come to age during the Boomer-caused bubbles and recessions as “too lazy to work”. Millennials are not, by and large, unemployed or underemployed by choice. We’re unemployed or underemployed because education is unconscionably expensive and companies aren’t hiring.

      Lay the blame where it belongs: Wall Street, the big banks, and their regulatory capture of the SEC, the Fed and banking and finance committees in Congress. They systematically dismantled the New Deal and post-WWII laws and regulations that created the era of prosperity that Boomers enjoyed. They deliberately sabotaged and destroyed organized labor and labor protections. They wrote the lousy “free trade” deals that shipped US manufacturing overseas. They created the bubbles and crashes. They created the mass unemployment and underemployment.

      So don’t be surprised when my generation takes unkindly to being blamed for the negligence, recklessness, and outright criminal behavior of prevous generatipns.

      I would thank you to not continue to spread misinformation about the economy in the future.

      Reply
      1. Jack Steffen5 months ago

        A lot of the “hippie generation” of the 1960s sold out and joined the establishment, and many bought into the philosophies of Ayn Rand.

        Reply
  14. Don Griffing1 year ago

    I am disappointed in the breakdown of the generations. Pew has broken the Boomers into Older Boomers (1946 – 1954) and Younger Boomers (1955 – 1964) is past studies. In those studies, it showed that some differences within the Boomer generation that has some social significance.

    Since this study separated the Millennials and not the Boomers, it leads my suspicious mind to ponder why the generations were not view using the same consideration. That ponder leads me to question the impartiality of how the data was presented to us. In the future, Boomers and Millennials should be analyzed in same manner regardless of how “messy” the results come out.

    Reply
  15. TheTruthIsOutThere1 year ago

    This survey just reinforces what we’ve been seeing for the past 20-30 years, which is sad. More people from my generation forward are abandoning religion, and what is that doing to the culture at large? Not good things, I can tell you that. I think in this day and age we need religion more now than ever before. People are becoming more and more lost spiritually and emotionally and follow the absurd worldview of relativism. They no longer think there is such thing as a definite good or evil; therefore, views on issues like abortion and gay marriage need to be “updated” for our time. The truth of the matter is that there is such thing as objective good and evil, and some things are just flat-out wrong, regardless of the social and political climate. Western civilization as we know it today would not be possible without religion, specifically the Catholic Church, hands down. Don’t believe me, do some research. Ever since the so-called Enlightenment, we as a society have slowly but surely loosened our grip on religion and spirituality and have embraced purely secular ideas. If we continue to abandon our religious roots, then civilization will eventually come crumbling down and possibly return to the pagan ways of our ancestors. It’s only a matter of time…

    Reply
    1. dale kadavy1 year ago

      GOD GAVE US REASON, NOT RELIGION.

      Reply
      1. TheTruthIsOutThere1 year ago

        Yes, God gave us reason. Using our reason, we can come to the conclusion that there must be more to the world than what we can see. God also gave us religion; our reason can only come so close to the truth. First He revealed himself to the Jewish people (Abraham and Moses onward), then came in human form (Jesus) to establish Christianity, aka, Catholicism. Then came of course various schisms and apostasies that gave the world the Orthodox Church and Protestantism. Those denominations are made by men; the Catholic Church is from God. Therefore, Judaism and Christianity are the only two religions that come straight from God.

        Reply
        1. Anonymous2 months ago

          “Christianity, aka, Catholicism.” & “the Catholic Church is from God”

          I hear Catholics touting this statement all the time, but never able to prove it. Furthermore, the Little Horn in Daniel and the Beast in Revelation is the Papacy, as Martin Luther, Westley, Newton and many other able Biblical Scholars have aptly demonstrated.

          Its curious that the Roman Catholic Church, who persecuted real Christians for 1200 some odd years and largely responsible for repression of Bible truth, resulting in what is commonly known as the “Dark Ages” have the audacity to call themselves the “real” Church.

          Reply
      2. George1 year ago

        Reason rather than Religion is a broad concept that requires deep thought and philosophic reasoning. Hate and misunderstanding are easy to understand without thought. Anti-religious speech has always been point out the bad, ignore the good, and insert a lifestyle choice that is good for me the individual. Couple this with the information age attention span of 140 characters and the answer is clear; religion in its aggregate cannot be summed up in a tweet, therefore religion is irrelevant.

        Reply
        1. TheTruthIsOutThere1 year ago

          Religion is irrelevant? As I’ve said, our society owes its very existence to religion. The morals and ethics that we hold today stem from the Judeo-Christian tradition. There can only be two possibilities: (1) one religion is right and the rest aren’t or (2) all religions are wrong. That’s what we all need to search for, which faith is the correct one, if there is one. As C.S. Lewis once said about Christianity, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Same goes for religion in general; either it means everything or it means nothing, but it can’t be somewhat important.

          Reply
    2. Sydney-Lara12 months ago

      There’s nothing the least bit remarkable about these stats. The entire Western World is rejecting organized religion because it has repeatedly failed to actively care for and respect the needs of the individual.
      Visit Europe – the pews have been empty for decades. Over centuries of wars/persecutions and social upheaval, Protestant/Catholic institutions often played leading roles in collaborating, or remaining mute to the atrocities.The pews in America’s mainline Protestant/Catholic fare little better. The apathy by the public is genuine and real.

      American Fundamentalism is in decline for at least two leading features:
      1. Its fanaticism is ideologically-driven by piecemeal use of the Old/New Testament.
      2. Its incessant failure to embrace hurting humanity in the face of
      Christ’s deeply penetrating empathy and love for ALL.

      Reply
    3. Jacob Trueman9 months ago

      People abandoning religion is the absolute best thing for our culture. Without the restraint imposed upon society by these ancient, nonsensical rule, we can finally develop and/or spread a real system of ethics that is formulated rationally. My friend, you may be interested to know that their exists civilization outside of the west! Now, none of the civilizations in existence are perfect, but few of them are worse then the west in most ways. They’ve all gotten on perfectly fine without biblical values- why can’t we? In addition, western civilization has its foundation in pagan Greece. You know when the roman empire fell? Very soon after it adopted Christianity. Finally, the obvious modern example: Scandinavia! The best place in the world, and also one of the most secular! Not collapsing or anything! Religion prevents real morals from developing- you’re just doing things so that your father won’t beat you, essentially. Grow up, please!

      Reply
  16. EvolutionistX1 year ago

    I question the % of Catholics. Hispanics are 17% of the country, and as far as I know, tend to be Catholic–and tend to be fairly young, so “millenials” probably contains a greater % of Hispanics than “Boomers”. Since Hispanics are a growing group, that would imply that non-Hispanic Catholic attendance has decreased at a much higher rate than reflected in the graph–a much higher rate than all of the other religious groups.

    Is there something wonky about Catholics, making them hemorrhage faster than the others? Or are Hispanics turning non-religious or to other denominations faster than other groups? Or does the data not reflect Hispanic religious preferences (perhaps due to language barriers?) Or some other factor, like me just being totally wrong?

    Reply
    1. Michael Lipka1 year ago

      Thanks for your comment. Last year, we published a report on U.S. Hispanics, who have become less Catholic in recent years. You can see that report here: pewforum.org/2014/05/07/the-shif…

      Michael Lipka

      Reply
      1. Jack Steffen5 months ago

        My own personal observations and acquaintences who are Hispanic bear this out. Many that I know are what are called nominal Catholics. They get baptized in the Church, and that’s about it.

        Reply
    2. TheTruthIsOutThere1 year ago

      That’s sad too. For hundreds of years since the Spanish first arrived in the Americas, Hispanics have been overwhelmingly Catholic. Now many have become atheists, Protestants, or have returned to the pagan roots of their ancestors. It’s even more disturbing when it also occurs in Latin America itself. They just don’t know their faith as much as they should; that’s why they (and Catholics in general) are so easily swayed to join other groups. In my opinion this trend could be a foretaste to the end times when millions will leave the Church and the number of adherents will get smaller and smaller until Christ returns.

      Reply
      1. Jacob Trueman9 months ago

        Do you know what the deeply Catholic Spaniards did, besides and alongside with converting the native Americans? They slaughtered, tortured, enslaved, and oppressed them! Christian values, hurrah!

        Reply
  17. Charlie Sitzes1 year ago

    Religion survives through the indoctrination of children before their brains have developed enough for critical thinking, logic and reason. It sticks….look at Romney for and Mike Huckabee for just two examples.

    Studies have shown our brain is not fully developed until we reach our mid to late twenties. It’s tantalizing. So close…yet so far away.

    Reply
  18. laurie1 year ago

    Just because one chooses to be unaffiliated with organized religion, does not mean they are less spiritual. Perhaps they choose light and love over condemnation and hate..

    Reply
    1. Antwone DaCosta1 year ago

      Thank you!

      Reply
    2. Greg Laskaris1 year ago

      Even if people don’t choose “light and love” as a spiritual belief, but opt for “live and let live” or just the traditional Golden Rule, those are more positive choices that hate and condemnation of some religionists.

      Reply
    3. Bobbi1 year ago

      Now that’s insightful. I tend to mistrust organized religion because of all the wars that have been fought or fomented in the name of “God.”

      Reply
    4. JMG12 months ago

      Many folks live with some sort of philosophy they assume is somehow inborn, or genetic. Wrong. You may have some “individual” philosophy, but its origin is 99% Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, &c. Proof: when you marry, bless, bury, &c., and include some ceremonial spiritualism, what is the source of your spiritual approach? Ralphs? Flintstones? Rocky? The vendor who made it up to sell it to you?

      “Light and love not condemnation and hate” sounds like Christianity for the well-guarded wealthy. Embrace whatever philosophy you arrived with – enrich you existence with something more than movies and food.

      Reply
  19. winnie1 year ago

    I think this is a good trend in one way, demonstrating less of a tendency to follow unthinking in the footsteps of parents and establishment institutions. It is a shame that the churches have not done a better job of updating their theology to provide a much needed social support for a society where new interconnections and “family replacement” environments are so needed. The best churches taught the social laws of kindness and compassion…those are still needed but without the dogma and bigotry….Pope Frances has started a trend for the Catholic church- I hope he continues to make the churches of old the social supports of future generations…without the guilt, need to confess and unquestioning obeyance of the past…any society that stops questioning is in danger. The churches could do so much if they can drop the need to be the only path to the hereafter- whatever that is.

    Reply
    1. Brandon Moreau1 year ago

      Pope Francis has not started this trend. He has not gone against the dogma of the church. Saying otherwise is just incorrect.

      Reply
  20. johnathanblaze1 year ago

    Organized religion is a relic and makes no sense in the information age.

    Reply
  21. Marie Saunders Batten1 year ago

    With the Tea Party style “Christian” attempting to take healthcare, food, education, and voting rights from the poor, what do they expect. My personal observation of many bench warmers in the name of Christ are thus in name only. Their thoughts and actions towards others don’t translate to good deeds or being their brother’s keeper.

    Reply
  22. Mikki Mack1 year ago

    people stopped being sheeples and decided to think for themselves, take the information, process it, and then decide to keep or not. Too many conservative “Christian’s” are trying to push their beliefs onto others as the ‘only’ way to believe and that is turning people off to organized religion.

    Reply
  23. Alex VanAcker1 year ago

    As we age we become more wise (hopefully). Why would one go from “none” to religious as they get older? Not gonna happen

    Reply
    1. omar1 year ago

      To some people, becoming religious IS one step wiser. Sad, I know.

      Reply
  24. Daniel Spivak Shamir1 year ago

    So in 1000 years maybe this chart will be flipped in the other direction

    Reply
  25. Frank1 year ago

    Looks like religions have been doing an increasingly poorer job at attending to the spiritual needs of younger generations and speaking to the reality of today’s world. Time for a reset?

    Reply
    1. Niva1 year ago

      Abandoning religion is the reset.

      Reply
  26. Laura Geiger1 year ago

    About time.

    Reply