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College-Age Millennials Are Losing Their Religion

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Younger Millennials (ages 18-24) report significant levels of movement from the religious affiliation of their childhood, mostly toward identifying as religiously unaffiliated, according to a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown’s Berkley Center. The survey also finds that they support government intervention to address the gap between the rich and poor.

Some of the highlights from the survey include:

• While only 11% of Millennials were religiously unaffiliated in childhood, one-quarter (25%) currently identify as unaffiliated, a 14-point increase.

• Catholics and white mainline Protestants saw the largest net losses (-7.9% and -5%) while black Protestants and white evangelicals saw the least decline (-1.1 and -0.8).

• College-age Millennials are more likely than the general population to be religiously unaffiliated. They are less likely than the general population to identify as white evangelical Protestants or white mainline Protestant.

• Only one-in-four (25%) say they attend religious services at least once a week, while 3-in-10 (30%) say they attend occasionally (once or twice a month or a few times a year). More than 4-in-10 say they seldom (16%) or never attend (27%).
• One-third (33%) report that they pray at least daily and about 1-in-4 (27%) say they pray occasionally. Nearly 4-in-10 (37%) say they seldom or never pray.

• A majority (54%) believe that God is a person with who one can have a relationship. About 1-in-5 (22%) say that God is an impersonal force, and 14% say they do not believe in God.

• Fewer than 1-in-10 say that religion is very important or the most important thing in their life. Nearly 8-in-10 white evangelicals (78%) and black Protestants (77%) say that religion is either very important or the most important thing in their life.

• Nearly three-quarters (73%) agree that the economic system in the U.S. unfairly favors the wealthy, while 24% disagree. Majorities of all political parties agree: 85% of Democrats, 71% of Independents, and 59% of Republicans.

• Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) believe that the government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and poor, while 28% disagree.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Every time I see a survey like this I wonder how unique it really is. Aren’t college-aged people, in every generation, more likely to be less religious and more politically idealistic?

    For example, in a 1973 article in the Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion, Wuthnow and Glock observe:

    An accumulating mass of data suggests that organized
    religion is currently a significant object of commitment for only a minority of
    young people. Gallup polls conducted in 1970 and 1971, for example, reveal that
    only 28 percent of those age 21 to 29 have attended church during the previous
    week and that a striking 80 percent in this age category perceive religion as
    losing its influence in American life (Gallup Opinion Index, January 1970;
    February 1971). Among college students one national survey of seniors done in
    1969 reported only 8 percent describing themselves as “very
    religious,” another survey in the same year found only one-third of
    students in “forerunner” colleges and one-half in
    “practical” colleges valuing “Living the good Christian
    life” or identifying with people of their religion, and a Harris poll of
    college students in 1965 showed only 34 percent expressing a “great
    deal” of confidence in “organized religion” in comparison with
    75 percent who placed such confidence in the “scientific community”
    (Hadden, 1969; Fortune, 1969; Newsweek, 1965). And results from an unpublished
    study of Berkeley students conducted in 1971 found only 18 percent accepting a
    traditional image of God, 14 percent a traditional image of Christ, and only 9
    percent a traditional view of life after death (Berkeley Beliefs Study,
    conducted by David Nasatir).

    How is the situation today any different?

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