A Portrait of Generation Next

The Pew Research Center released their latest study on “How young people view their lives, futures and politics.” The young people, ages 18-25, represent “Generation Next.”

The results further the idea that our society is heading in the right direction.

What does the study (PDF) say?

One-in-five members of Generation Next say they have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic, nearly double the proportion of young people who said that in the late 1980s. And just 4% of Gen Nexters say people in their generation view becoming more spiritual as their most important goal in life.

One-in-five… That’s 20%! (Thank you, college education.)

It’s certainly the highest percentage of non-religious people in any age bracket I’ve heard of in a study.

What else do we know about the religious lives of Gen Next?

Gen Nexters are among the least likely to attend church regularly: 32% attend at least once a week compared with 40% of those over age 25, and 16% say they never attend (compared with 12% among the older age groups).

I would like to say that my habit of sometimes going to three church services a week this past year may have skewed the data.

There is a clear generational divide on the issue of evolution. Nearly two-thirds of Nexters (63%) believe humans and other living things evolved over time, while only 33% say all living creatures have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

Oh boy, Science education is finally winning the battle over… Science education!

If these numbers hold as Gen Next gets older, it will signify a step away from superstition and spirituality and a step toward more rational thinking in our everyday lives.

Do you want more good news?

The population as a whole has become more tolerant on racial issues. In the late 1980s, only 44% of white Americans agreed with the statement, “I think it’s all right for blacks and whites to date each other.” By 2003, 72% agreed with this statement.

In 2002-2003, 89% of white 18-25 year-olds agreed that it is okay for blacks and whites to date each other, compared with 70% among those over age 25. Furthermore, 64% of young whites completely agreed with this statement; just 36% of older whites did so.

This is good news, but is anyone else disturbed by the fact that 11% of white Gen Nexters still don’t agree with interracial dating? (10% said they disagreed and 1% said they didn’t know how they feel.)

Fully 71% of 18-25 year-olds rejected the idea that school boards should be able to fire known homosexuals. This compared with 59% of those over the age of 25.

Gen Nexters also are more accepting of homosexuality generally. Nearly six-in-ten (58%) say homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society. This compares with 50% of those over age 25.

Nearly half of Gen Nexters (47%) favor gay marriage, and 46% are opposed to it. Among those over age 25, only 30% favor gay marriage while 64% are opposed.

61% of us Gen Nexters also favor gay adoption.

And I’m sure you can guess the political trajectory here…

In Pew surveys in 2006, nearly half of young people (48%) identified more with the Democratic Party, while just 35% affiliated more with the GOP. This makes Generation Next the least Republican generation.

The future is in good hands… well, at least in better hands than the generation before it.

[tags]Pew Research Center, Generation Next, atheist, atheism, agnostic, Christian, church, evolution, superstition, spirituality, racial issues, interracial dating, blacks, whites, homosexuals, homosexuality, gay marriage, Democrat, Republican[/tags]

  • miller

    Hey, I’m in that age group!
    Most of it looks better than I expected. I guess I shouldn’t be so cynical about my peers.

    If 20% are non-religious but only 16% never attend church, does that mean at least 4% attend church, and hide their feelings on religion or what?

  • http://www.myspace.com/humanistmama Stephanie

    Oh, I hope these statistics hold true! I have been curious to know if there are any statistics about people beginning to attend church once they have kids. I’ve noticed that many people I know who never attended church when they were younger, start going to church when they have kids. This has certainly been the case with my brother-in-law. Presumably, many people think that church will give their children a “proper” education in morals. Maybe the Gen Nexters will resist this idea. Especially if we can come up with a good way of teaching morals in a secular way. Paul Kurtz touched on this recently in an article I read in Free Inquiry magazine called “Wanted: Moral Education for Secular Children.”

  • http://www.thegreenatheist.com Sylvain Duford

    There is a clear generational divide on the issue of evolution. Nearly two-thirds of Nexters (63%) believe humans and other living things evolved over time, while only 33% say all living creatures have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

    Now you know why Chrisitians are working so hard to get creationism in the classroom!

  • http://musings.meanderwithme.com Allison


    I’m 35 (yes, a true Gen-Xer), and I agree with all of the progressive statements now. If you’d asked me in the late 1980s, I would have sold you a bill of religious-right nonsense, due to my upbringing. Ah, learning to think for oneself is good.

    This is really encouraging; thanks for sharing.

  • Karen

    Cool! Very good to hear. As a mom raising two teenagers, I definitely see much more tolerance on all sorts of issues among them and their peers (with the exception of two boys raised in a very strict, homeschooled fundamentalist Christian home) than I observed among my peers in the (tail end of the) Boomer generation.

    My only caveat to reality here is that studies continuously show that people become more conservative generally as they get older. I don’t know if that applies to people becoming more racist or homophobic as they age, however. Hope not.

  • txatheist

    I’ll address the problem issue. Go to the small parts of Texas, Alabama, Tennessee or some other place similar and you will see that whites and blacks not intermingling is still a problem and interracial marriage is pretty much taboo. I wasn’t kidding about a month ago when I told you about the problem in far east Texas.

    There is a program about the above report that airs on either UCTV or Link TV. I watched it awhile back and it’s about how gen x-ers were redefining religion and moving away from it in general.

  • txatheist

    Atheists attend UU church services on a regular basis. I am one of them.

  • Martin

    I was impressed by the fact that 20% of young Americans are atheists. And this seems to support Dan Dennett’s hypothesis that religion is dieing: [click here for article]

    I don’t find the other figures that heartening however. Perhaps it is naivety as an Australian but some of the results astound me.

    One third of young Americans don’t accept evolution?
    30% want people fired if they are homosexual?
    11% are against people from different races dating?

    In 2007?

    These are astounding figures. The US is such a fascinating country. A world leader in so many endeavours and academic fields. Yet home to young people who think it is wrong for a couple to date if they have different skin colour. (Excuse my English spelling; I can’t give up my ‘u’s).

    Incidentally Hubert, your blog is great and with the demise of The Raving Atheist yours is now my first port of call for atheist news. Cheers.

  • Martin

    Sorry, meant to read “Hemant” not “Hubert”.

  • txatheist

    I lived in quite a few places in the US and was stationed in several while in the military and to me it breaks down from the amount of culture variance one is exposed to. I lived in a town of 8000 until I was 18 so I never got exposed to much. Living in San Diego, California was eye-opening especially when I went across the border to Tijuana, Mexico. I’d never seen truly poor people until I went there. Kids in small USA towns or are sheltered are generally less accepting of diversity as I see it.

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  • Victor Bogado

    Not trying to rain on your parade, but many generations had this forward thinking in their youth days and then turn to be a backward thinkers as they grow into the responsibilities of the so called “adult life”.

    Sure it is good that so many people on this “generation next” think like that, and this could mean that afterwards a greater percentage of those will be faithful to those forward thinking but be sure that many will turn into your worst nightmare, so it may be too soon to celebrate yet.

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  • http://gustavonarea.name Gustavo

    Whoa, I found this surprising.

    When I think of us Americans (from Canada down to Argentine) in this context, what comes to my mind are societies driven by catholicism (to different extents), specially the USA. Which contrasts with the way I see Western Europe (excluding at least Portugal, Spain and Italy), for example.

    I believe something similar is happening in Venezuela (where I come from) and Spain (where I live in) lately. These are two nations traditionally catholic, but I think that maybe most of the people I know (under 25) consider themselves atheist or agnostic.

    I hope this will be happening in many more countries, whatever the dominant theistic religion(s).

    Thanks for spreading the good news!

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