In Chapter 3, Wuthnow examines the statistics surrounding religious participation, specifically – who is attending? Among younger adults, there has been a decline in the percentage of those who attend regularly, while there has been an increase in the percentage of those who seldom or never attend. After the breakdown, Wuthnow estimates that the average congregation has lost 21 younger adults.
Why is religious participation declining? Wuthnow offers 4 reasons.
Marriage – religious participation is a traditional role. Married couples are attending religious services at the same rate now as a generation ago, but because marriage is being delayed, there are significantly fewer young married couples.
Children – wanting to set a good example for children is one reason adults attend church. Those who have more than one child are more likely to attend, but the number of married couples with more than one child has declined.
Employment Patterns – full-time employment means less time for other things. Women (who outnumber men at church) are working full time and still doing most of the housework. A woman’s self-identity is no longer invested in the church, but in one’s work.
Education – religious attendance is generally higher among men and women with higher education, but those with higher education still constitute a minority.
Put all these together and you have a cumulative impact that significantly reduces the number of younger adults who attend church. Wuthnow then takes a closer look at some of the key findings.
First, he shows that marriage is a stronger influence on church-going than having children. Secondly, he points out that young men are significantly less likely to attend church than young women, no matter their family status. Third, he observes the cutting of geographical ties from churches. Church attendance is no longer rooted in neighborhoods and local communities.
Wuthnow addresses the inevitable comparisons of American religion to the European religious trajectory. Is the United States becoming more like Europe? One graph quickly dispels that myth. The United States is still far more religious than Europe.
The chapter ends with a profile of regular church-goers. Most younger attenders are disproportionately female. Younger adults in their twenties are nearly absent. Regular church attenders are usually married.
The post-boomer generation is so different from the boomers. The major difference regarding church attendance is that the social influences that reinforce religious participation are weaker than they were a generation ago. This has caused fewer younger adults to be involved in churches.
Tomorrow we’ll look at Chapter 4’s take on the major religious traditions.