Give me the child and I’ll give you the adult

Give me the child and I’ll give you the adult April 28, 2009

The Pew Research Center has a new survey out today looking into the reasons Americans give for switching in and out of religion (and between sects). Apart from the fact that there’s a lot of switching going on, there’s nothing particularly earth-shattering in it.

Apparently the main reason Americans give up on religion is that they just do. Well, really!

People also tend to make these life choices early on. But here’s something interesting that the Pew Center doesn’t pick up on.

Look at the ages of people who join the ‘unaffiliated’ group, but who were raised either Protestant or Catholic. More than 70% made the switch before they reached 25.

Now look at the people who were raised unaffiliated, but joined a faith group. Only 56% did that before they reached 25. In other words, they tend to be a bit older.

Switching between protestant and catholic tends to happen at still older ages. That’s understandable, because it requires a smaller revolution in thought.

Why the difference between switching in and out of unaffiliated group? It might reflect Terror Management– i.e. that as you get closer to the end of life, you start to get a bit more fearful of death.

Or it might simply be that you tend to decide the major themes of your life quite early on, and they become entrenched.

Regardless, these data suggest that there’s quite a small window for secularisation ideas to implant. This fits with other data that suggest there is a strong ‘cohort effect’ in religious belief.

Which is why the new drive in the UK to bring atheism to school kids makes sense. The Jesuits would no doubt approve!

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work by Tom Rees is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

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