The Story: 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 Backgroung: The 2012 Millennial Values Survey took a random sample of 2,012 adults age 18 to 24. Interviews were conducted online in both English and Spanish between March 7 and March 20, 2012. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample is +/- 3.3 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.

The Highlights:

• 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.

• Millennials also hold less traditional or orthodox religious beliefs. Fewer than one-quarter (23%) believe the Bible is the word of God and should be taken literally, word for word. About 1-in-4 (26%) believe the Bible is the word of God, but that not everything in the Bible should be taken literally. Roughly 4-in-10 (37%) say the Bible is a book written by men and is not the word of God.

• Millennials' feelings toward present-day Christianity are fairly ambivalent. Approximately three-quarters (76%) of younger Millennials say that modern-day Christianity "has good values and principles" and 63% agree that contemporary Christianity "consistently shows love for other people." On the other hand, nearly two-thirds (64%) say that "anti-gay" describes present-day Christianity somewhat or very well and more than 6-in-10 (62%) also believe that Christianity is "judgmental."

• A majority of college-age Millennials say that abortion should be legal in all (24%) or most cases (30%). More than 4-in-10 say that abortion should be illegal in most (28%) or all cases (16%). Roughly 6-in-10 (59%) believe that at least some health care professionals in their community should provide legal abortions.

• Millennials are nearly evenly divided over whether sex between two adults of the same gender is morally acceptable (48%) or morally wrong (44%). But nearly 6-in-10 (59%) of college-age Millennials favor allowing same-sex marriage, compared to 37% who are legally opposed.

• Nearly 6-in-10 (57%) support making it more difficult to access Internet pornography compared to less than 4-in-10 who are opposed.

• 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.

Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Joe Carter


Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. You can follow him on Twitter.

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