This is part of a series of posts in which I’m reflecting on Christian Smith and Patricia Snell’s new book, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults.
Today, I’m going to present what happens between the teen years (13-17) and the emerging adult years (18-23), according to Souls in Transition in regards to religious affiliation. There’s lots of data in the book, and very many different religious groups are dealt with therein, but I’ve culled the data that’s most interesting to me — and probably will be to my readers — and made some graphs to better show the trends.
I’ll do is describe the trend below, then show the graph, and then offer a bit of reflection on the numbers and trends at the end.
First, how religious affiliation changes during these years. Affiliation is what respondents say when asked how they classify themselves religiously. Among both Protestants and Catholics, there’s about a 10-point drop. Meanwhile, there’s a 15-point increase among those who claim to be non-religious.
Next is the change among claimed religious traditions. Again, there’s a lots among every group — the biggest loser being Catholicism — and a hearty gain in the “not religious” category.
And third, we see the change and retention among the religious traditions. What you see below is that 64% of conservative Protestants stay conservative Protestant, 10% switch to mainline, 15% become nonreligious, and 11% become something else, and so on. Notable here is that mainline Protestantism has the lowest retention rate, at 50%.
In the end, Smith makes it clear that emerging adults are still relatively conventional in their religious beliefs, with about 60% claiming religion of one sort or another. But that’s down about 15 points from when this same group was teenaged, about five years ago. The biggest loser over those five years is mainline Protestant, and the biggest winner is nonreligious.
We’ll get to the question of “Why” in a couple days, but so far the data seem to indicate that the more progressive version of Protestantism results in young adults who are more likely to forsake their religion, especially in favor of non-belief.