Religion down and atheism up among young people

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A new report released by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on religion and public life shows rates of religious affiliation among today’s youth are at an all-time low.

According to the findings, one-third of American adults under 30 are atheist, agnostic, or otherwise unaffiliated with religion compared to the one-fifth of the non-religious population at large. These rates of being unaffiliated fall steadily as the age of those surveyed increases to 21 per cent between the ages of 30 to 39 and only nine per cent in those aged 65 and above.

The Pew Forum is a non-profit  “fact tank” that has been conducting research on religion since 2001. This survey was conducted in the summer of 2012 and combines data from previous Pew Forum surveys as well as facts from other related organizations.

The highest demographic identified as being unaffiliated with religion are single males that associate themselves with the democratic political party. Of those identified, 30 per cent of respondents claim to be atheist or agnostic while the remaining reported their religious affiliation to be “nothing in particular.”

In terms of education levels, the unaffiliated group was comparable to the general public. However, specifically those identifying as atheist or agnostic ranked higher in terms of income. Atheists also reported having a higher level of education compared to the general public. 38 per cent of atheists make over $70,000 per year compared to 29 per cent of the general population.

A total of 958 religiously unaffiliated responders also known as “nones” were identified. Among those, only a few were actively seeking a religion and outlined a few reasons for this decision.

One of the common reasons that people are not interested in religion appears to be based on the ideology that religious organizations are often too concerned with money or power. Historically, churches have drastically shifted from being near the top of the political spectrum to the bottom.

It’s hard to believe these results based on the drastic impact that religion once had on things in our ever day lives such as such as education and the criminal justice system.

Another identified reason for the lack of interest seems to be that churches tend to be involved in political issues. Christianity for example is often perceived as being closely tied to conservative political views. In general, society, particularly young people, are looking for new ways to explore the world and establish their identities. If religious practices do not coincide with these goals, young North Americans are going to look elsewhere.

Another reason for religious affiliation being down among youth is the growing trend of delayed marriages. According to the survey, married people are more likely to practice religion than those who are not. The decline in young marriages therefore greatly contributes to the decline in religious affiliation.

The focus on individualism rather than communal relations in society has also added to the decline. People seem more interested in taking care of themselves and their priorities than engaging with groups socially. For many church-goers a lot of the appeal to religion is being able to bond with fellow believers. With the growing technologies and lack of face-to-face communication in society, many people are perfectly content missing out on these opportunities.

So what does all this mean for society?

It would seem that according to these stats, religion is rapidly declining and atheism may be the new norm. Universities continue to promote free thinking in their classrooms and encourage students to explore faith and religion on their own terms. For those that still practice religion, all hope is not lost.

It is important to remember that religion is not only about being institutionalized and structured but also allows believers to grow and engage through their own methods of worship. UNBSJ has a few religious clubs open to students and encourages those interested to take part regardless of which group you identify with.



Emily is in her fourth year of Political Science. She loves studying and academics which follows into her research work. She's a stern black coffee drinker and is a proud Acadienne. When she's not working or doing school work, you can find Emily listening to 70s music on vinyl and watching Parks and Recreation. If you ask her about parliamentary institutions, she won't stop talking.