May 4, 2017

Though still conservative, young evangelicals are more liberal than their elders on some issues

Millennials are more likely than older adults to take liberal positions on social and political issues. This generation gap exists even among evangelical Protestants – who constitute one of the country’s most conservative religious groups – in areas including same-sex marriage, immigration and environmentalism.

The gap between younger and older evangelicals is perhaps most noticeable on LGBT issues. Evangelical Protestants who are Millennials (those born from 1981 to 1996) are considerably more likely than older evangelical Protestants to support same-sex marriage and to say homosexuality should be accepted by society, according to Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study.

In addition, younger evangelicals are more likely than their older co-religionists to favor stricter environmental laws and to say immigration makes the United States better. Similarly, evangelical Protestant Millennials are more likely to favor government aid to the poor and to prefer a bigger government with more services over a smaller one with fewer services. And they are less likely to say they are conservative, while slightly more likely to say they are politically moderate.

That said, by some metrics, including party identification and attitudes about abortion, there is little distinction between young evangelicals and their older counterparts.

For example, Millennial evangelicals are only slightly less likely than older evangelicals to identify as Republican. About half of Millennial evangelicals (51%) identified with or leaned toward the Republican Party in the 2014 Landscape Study, almost on par with the 57% of older evangelicals who said the same. And there is no statistically significant gap at all in the abortion views of older and younger evangelicals: Millennial evangelicals are just as likely as their older counterparts to say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases (65% versus 63%).

And while younger evangelical Protestants are less conservative than older evangelicals in several areas, they remain more conservative than their generational peers in their attitudes regarding all the issues above. For example, while four-in-ten Millennial evangelical Protestants (41%) say homosexuality should be discouraged by society, that opinion is held by just 15% of all other Millennials. And while 65% of Millennial evangelicals say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, only 36% of all other Millennials agree.

Topics: Religion and Society, Generations and Age, Religious Affiliation, Social Values, Political Issue Priorities

  1. Photo of Jeff Diamant

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Becka A. Alper

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