A lot of thought and effort has been expended on pinpointing what makes up the character of the millennial generation, and how they became that way. The main point that most everyone agrees on is that they are very different from their parents and grandparents before them. Of course, some change in attitudes is inevitable with the passage of time, and millennials do still retain some aspects of their forebears’ perspective and values. Still, there is one area in particular where millennials break quite radically with their predecessors: as a whole, they are dramatically less religious than the rest of the country.

A recent Pew Research Center study[i] on millennial attitudes and social behavior examined how they compared to the previous generations. Many of these findings are unsurprising: for instance, millennials are much more likely than any other group to have posted a selfie, or a picture of oneself (usually taken with a phone camera), on their social media, indicating how far they have integrated recent technology into their lives. Other findings are less immediately apparent. For instance, millennials tend to be more liberal than their parents, but they are far more likely to identify as independent from political organizations than their predecessors than previous generations did at their age, regardless of whether they lean right or left politically; essentially, they don’t identify as members of the parties they vote for.

Millennial independence from institutions is not limited to the political arena. Another Pew report[ii] found that one in four millennials say they have no religious affiliation. Even those in their 30s are far less likely to say the same, at just 19%, and older generations have even fewer members who claim no particular religion. Furthermore, even among religious millennials, only a third of them report attending services weekly, compared to 41% of those 30 or older, and more than half of seniors. Millennials are also significantly less likely than the three previous generations to say that they believe in God, although believers are still in the majority, and less than 60% of them are certain that God exists. Only a little more than a third say that they would describe themselves as “a religious person,” compared to nearly two-thirds of the Silent Generation, or those who came into adulthood around 1960. Clearly, even for those who still cleave to religion, spirituality takes more of a backseat to other concerns for millennials than it does for the generations that raised them.

The question is, why are millennials fleeing from religion in such numbers? Another recent report from the Public Religion Research Institute[iii] shows some of the social trends that may be coming into conflict with religious ideology. One statistic in particular jumps out: a significant majority of millennials, and a far greater percentage than any other age group, are in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry or form civil unions. Moreover, although more than two-thirds of seniors view consensual sex between adults of the same gender as morally wrong, only 41% of adults aged 18-29 say the same. One more interesting statistic in the PRRI report tells us that over half of those who attend church at least once or twice a month reported hearing their clergy talk about homosexuality in church. This last piece of information, in combination with the growing acceptance of homosexuality in younger generations, may be part of the reason why many millennials find organized religion unappealing, even if they believe in God. After all, much of the opposition to gay rights has been rooted in religious institutions; it seems likely that most of those hearing homosexuality discussed in church are finding those sermons take a negative view of the subject. While it’s doubtful that only one issue is to blame for millennials drifting away from religion, this correlation does suggest that young adults are dissatisfied with the moral views many religious institutions put forth.

Millennials live in a strikingly different world than their parents did at their age, or any other generation before them. No other generation has collectively had such a wealth of information easily accessible to them as millennials do; no other generation has grown up in such a globalized world, where communication is near instantaneous regardless of distance and the opposite side of the world is less than a day’s travel away; and no other generation has come of age in such an exponential explosion of technology as they have. In such circumstances, it’s possible that a change in worldview is inevitable for those just now entering adulthood, compared to their parents and grandparents. While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why millennials are turning away from the institutions built by their predecessors, it is an undeniable fact that they are doing so. Whatever the cause, it’s clear that organized religion has less to offer the newest generation of adults than the generations before them. What that means for millennials, for the generations after them, and for the institutions they are drifting away from, is something only the future can tell us.


[i] Pew Research Center, 2014, Millennials in Adulthood: Detached from Institutions, Networked with Friends. Available at: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/03/07/millennials-in-adulthood/, accessed 6/14/2015.

[ii] Pew Research Center, 2010, Religion Among the Millennials. Available at: http://www.pewforum.org/2010/02/17/religion-among-the-millennials/, accessed 6/14/2015.

[iii] Jones, Robert P.; Cox, Daniel; and Laser, Rachel. (2011). Committed to Availability, Conflicted About Morality: What the Millennial Generation Tells Us About the Future of the Abortion Debate and the Culture Wars. Available at: http://publicreligion.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Millenials-Abortion-and-Religion-Survey-Report.pdf, accessed 6/14/2015.

Creative Commons License
The Millennial Generation: Their attitudes, social behavior, & religious independence by UrbanSculpt Staff Writer Elektra Christensen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.UrbanSculpt.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://urbansculpt.com/terms-and-conditions.