November 23, 2015

Millennials are less religious than older Americans, but just as spiritual

By many measures, Millennials are much less likely than their elders to be religious.

For instance, only about half of Millennials (adults who were born between 1981 and 1996) say they believe in God with absolute certainty, and only about four-in-ten Millennials say religion is very important in their lives. By contrast, older generations are much more likely to believe in God and say religion is important to them.

In Many Measures, Millennials Are Less Religious

And this lower level of religiosity among Millennials manifests itself not just in what they think, but in what they do. Just 27% of Millennials say they attend religious services on a weekly basis, a substantially lower share than Baby Boomers (38%) and members of the Silent and Greatest generations (51% each). Similarly, a smaller share of Millennials say they pray every day compared with those in older generations.

Few Generational Differences About SpiritualityBut while Millennials are not as religious as older Americans by some measures of religious observance, they are as likely to engage in many spiritual practices. For instance, like older Americans, more than four-in-ten of these younger adults (46%) say they feel a deep sense of wonder about the universe at least once a week. Likewise, most also say they think about the meaning and purpose of life on a weekly basis (55%), again, similar to older generations.

Roughly three-quarters of Millennials feel a strong sense of gratitude or thankfulness at least weekly (76%). And 51% say they feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being at least once a week.

By comparison, older Americans are only slightly more likely than Millennials to say they feel a strong sense of gratitude. Only when it comes to feeling spiritual peace and well-being are members of these four older generations more likely than Millennials to answer in the affirmative.

Furthermore, on some traditional measures of religious belief, the difference between Millennials and older Americans is not that large. For instance, when it comes to views on the afterlife, two-thirds of Millennials say they believe in heaven, compared with roughly three-quarters of Baby Boomers and members of the Silent generation. And 56% of Millennials believe in the concept of hell, similar to older age cohorts.

Topics: Generations and Age, Religious Beliefs and Practices

  1. Photo of Becka A. Alper

    is a research associate focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

14 Comments

  1. Lon10 months ago

    Atheism IS a religion, you can’t have it both ways.

    1. David Harden10 months ago

      Atheism by definition is the lack of belief in a god or gods. Therefore it is not a religion. Interesting fact that no longer applies today, because Christians denied the existence of other gods but theirs, they were called atheists.

  2. Joe C10 months ago

    I find these studies very informative. It would be nice to clearly define religious. Does it mean to belief the legends and values of a brand of religion (and/or attend religious services) or does it mean the belief in an intervening deity?

    There are American atheists/agnostics who attend church for cultural reasons and go along with the singing and praying as part of a group activity – they go along to get along. Still they don’t believe in afterlife or a personal higher power. There are others who believe in a version of Yahweh (Abrahamic or self-defined) but don’t buy into the constructs of man-made religion.

    I think we can make assumptions about beliefs based on behaviors and I wonder if there is a more concrete way to measure what Americans believe, away from the influence of family and community.

  3. bubba smith10 months ago

    why is it that while belief in heaven and God have decreased, a belief in Hell has increased? it must be quite a dreary way to look at life……….How would we know evil if we did not have good? Or the other way around. Specifically in relation to this, It is fundamentally impossible for there to be a hell without there being a heaven. If there was only hell, we would have no concept of heaven, or good, and thusly, evil.

  4. Reality & Reason10 months ago

    More people believe in heaven than in hell. Goes to show that people like the happy stuff about religion and throw out the rest. They only want to accept the warm and fuzzy parts of their religion. As another Pew study showed, most people that consider themselves religious have no idea what their religion actually is. Do some research and you’ll likely find out how your religion poisons everything.

    R.I.P. Hitchens

    1. Lonnie10 months ago

      There is no one view of any specific religion, Christianity or otherwise. Life is a journey and it is very difficult to have a faith-based existence in the world we live in. Let’s forget the stereotypes and allow that each of us can live a ‘warm and fuzzy’ life that I call peaceful and charitable allowing our faith to carry us over the rough, ugly times. Perhaps if we support our differences and quit trying to be right we might learn something from each other.

  5. CalvinCoolidge isGOAT10 months ago

    I’m a millennial, and I hate my generation.

  6. Bill Welch10 months ago

    Very interesting and challenging. My Lord gave the invitation to all and in view of the consequences of rejection, one must conclude that many are ignorant in this area.

    1. StrongAndTasty10 months ago

      So people who don’t believe in your god are ignorant?

      1. Spartus10 months ago

        Not ignorant, just in denial. God reveals himself to all through his creation. People choose not to believe, which is a choice given by God.

        1. StrongAndTasty10 months ago

          And you are in denial for not believing in Zeus. Zeus reveals himself to all through his creation. People choose not to believe, which is a choice given by Zeus.

          1. RT10 months ago

            When Zeus has the best selling book in the world of all-time, gets the calendar to revolve around him, and continues to bless the world with his presence I might give him some consideration. Until then, I believe in the resurrected one, sent in love to take the sins of the world.

          2. Word of Zeus10 months ago

            +1 StrongAndTasty. Olympus roars with laughter.

      2. lonnie10 months ago

        Please read The Faith Club. Ignorance is not a bad thing. It is simply what we do not know. We are all ignorant in many things. Bu we can love and respect each other’s choices. I understand the bad taste religion leaves in the mouths of those who are non-believers, but for this Episcopalian I am forever grateful for my faith community that allows me to be who I am not who they want me to be with regard to my beliefs.