Wuthnow’s After the Baby Boomers now turns to the social environment in which religious participation takes place. If religious leaders will understand the next generation, they will have to come to grips with several key trends in the “life worlds” of young adults. Wuthnow shows statistics for each of these 7 trends. I will summarize the findings briefly.
Younger adults are getting married later than their parents. Married couples in their twenties were typical in the 1970’s. They are atypical by 2000.
Children – Fewer and Later
Younger adults are having fewer children than previous generations and they are having children later in life. Only a small percentage of younger adults desire to have no children at all, but statistics show that despite a good attitude toward child-rearing, 20% of younger adults probably will not have children.
Uncertainties of Work and Money
Due to heightened financial pressures, we are seeing the rise of the dual-income family. Younger adults believe they should have financial independence by age 21. Women and men alike are expected to work full-time. The turnover rate for employees is higher than in the past, which has pushed younger adults into more lines of work. The uncertainty causes stress in making family, housing, and other financial decisions. Life is more expensive. Credit card companies market aggressively, leading many into debt. Younger adults are most likely to be poor. Young adults who enter the labor market today experience lower wage growth and greater inequality than those of the previous generation.
Higher Education (for Some)
Only a small minority of younger adults have earned college or graduate degrees. But this trend is on the rise, especially among women.
Social relationships are changing. Voter participation has declined significantly. More younger adults are volunteering, but they are channeling their energies into charities and ministries that give greater flexibility and require looser connections. Some kinds of social interaction have dropped off (bowling, dinner parties, picnics), but other types of interaction have replaced them (going to movies, going out to lunch). Church congregations relying on picnics and dinner parties to attract newcomers may be out of touch.
Merchandise exports have increased. International travel is more common. Immigration has changed the landscape of American culture. Increasingly, the common assumption of many Americans that the United States is a special people with a special relationship with God is being questioned.
Culture – An Information Explosion
Information is far more accessible and diverse today. Music is more readily available. The Internet is easily accessed. Younger adults are less likely to spend long hours in front of the TV. Newspaper reading has declined sharply. Culturally speaking, younger adults are more “tolerant,” though more younger adults today define themselves as “conservative” than their parents.
Tomorrow, we look at who is participating in religious congregations.