For years, researchers have watched as an increasing number of young American adults chose not to identify with a specific religious tradition. A new report is offering further insight into the beliefs ― and influence ― of this burgeoning group.
The most common religious identity among Americans ages 18 to 29 is “none,” according to a report from the conservative-leaning think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI). More than one-third of young adults (34%) surveyed identified as religiously unaffiliated ― telling researchers they were atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.”
There seems to be a generational divide over questions about God, likely influenced by the rise of these young “nones.” As a whole, young adults were much more likely to express uncertainty about God. Only 39% of young adults said they were absolutely certain God exists, compared with 61% of seniors 65 and older, according to an analysis of the data AEI pulled for HuffPost.
Researchers also documented a modest difference between young and older Americans over whether people need God to be good. Thirty-four percent of young adults said it was necessary for a person to believe in God to be moral and have good values, while a higher percentage of seniors, 43%, said the same.
Daniel Cox, a research fellow in polling and public opinion at AEI, told HuffPost that attitudes on this question on God and morality have shifted markedly over the past few years, driven by the increased social connection Americans have with nonreligious people.
“In fact, young people are more likely to know an atheist than an evangelical Christian,” Cox said.
The growth of young “nones” is slowly reshaping America’s religious landscape. America has become less Christian and less religiously observant in recent years. AEI found that, in total, about 26% of all the adults surveyed were religiously unaffiliated.
The report found a divide between young people and seniors over the idea that the U.S. is currently, and has always been, a Christian nation. Over a quarter of young adults (26%) said the U.S. has never been a Christian nation, compared with only 15% of seniors.