February 16, 2017

Millennials in many countries are more open than their elders on questions of national identity

Across a number of countries that are wrestling with the politics of national identity, younger people are far more likely than their elders to take an inclusive view of what it takes for people to be truly considered “one of us” – whether the measure is being born in their country, sharing local customs and traditions or being Christian.

Among 18- to 34-year-olds in European Union countries surveyed, a median of 23% say being born in one’s country is very important to national identity. Four-in-ten of those ages 50 and older agree, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted last spring. The divide between the young and the old over birthright nationality is quite wide in certain European countries: 21 percentage points in the United Kingdom and 16 points each in Greece and Spain.

In the U.S., there is a 19-point division between the youngest and oldest adult generations. And, while only 19% of older Australians say birthplace is very important to nationality, just 4% of Australian millennials accord such importance to being born in Australia.

Among Japanese, there is a 30-percentage-point generation gap on the link between national identity and place of birth: 59% of older Japanese say it is very important to have been born in their country to be truly Japanese, while only 29% of younger Japanese agree.

Views on the importance of culture to national identity also split along generational lines. A majority (55%) of older Americans but only 28% of younger adults believe it is very important that a person share U.S. national customs and traditions to be truly American. There is a similar 20-point generation gap in Australia, Canada and Japan.

A median of 37% of 18- to 34-year-olds in the EU say that sharing national customs and traditions is very important to being a true national. And 56% of those ages 50 and older agree. The generational divide over the importance of culture to national identity is larger in some European countries: the UK (24 percentage points), France (23 points) and Greece (21 points).

Christianity is the dominant religion in all of the countries surveyed except Japan. In these predominantly Christian countries, older people are generally much more likely than younger ones to link national identity to being Christian.

In both Greece and the U.S., people ages 50 and older are significantly (26 points) more likely than people ages 18 to 34 to say that being Christian is very important to being truly “one of us.” There is a similar 19-point generation gap in Canada and the UK, a 16-point difference of opinion in Germany, a 15-point divide in Hungary and a 14-point one in Italy. Notably, only in Greece (65% of those ages 50 and older) does a majority of any age group believe it is very important for one to be Christian to be a true national.

NOTE (April 2017): After publication, the weight for the Netherlands data was revised to correct percentages for two regions. The impact of this revision on the Netherlands data included in this blog post is very minor and does not materially change the analysis. For a summary of changes, see here. For updated demographic figures for the Netherlands, please contact info@pewresearch.org.

Topics: Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Religion and Society, Generations and Age, North America, Social Values, National and Cultural Identity, Millennials

  1. Photo of Bruce Stokes

    is director of global economic attitudes at Pew Research Center.

2 Comments

  1. Erik Kengaard5 months ago

    The study would be more informative if, in addition to age, it had taken into account the national origins of the respondents. 10th generation Americans my have a perspective different from recent arrivals.

  2. Anonymous5 months ago

    Thanks to Pew for your insightful research. On the recent study of national identity and age, it appeared that you limited the nations surveyed to the North-American/European zone. I hope you expand it to include the same question to other nations and regions – Middle East, Muslim, Asian. I wonder if such a survey might indicate extreme differences in the definition of national identity and thus imply whether those countries would be open to immigrants.

    Thanks, Rev. Steve Brundage