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.