Pew report highlights emerging U.S. generation gap

DALLAS Wed Feb 17, 2010 1:07am EST

DALLAS (Reuters Life!) - Thought America's "generation gap" had narrowed? Think again.

According to a new report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the gap on some issues has widened into a chasm, notably on issues related to gay rights and tolerance.

"Young people are more accepting of homosexuality and evolution than are older people. They are also more comfortable with having a bigger government, and they are less concerned about Hollywood threatening their values," said the report, which was released on Wednesday.

The report also found "Millennials" (aged 18-29) were far more likely than their elders from "Generation X" and the "Baby Boom" to be unaffiliated with a specific faith. Generation X was born between 1965 and 1980, Baby Boomers from 1946 to 1964.

It draws on recent Pew surveys to paint a portrait of emerging generation gaps among Millennials and other demographics. It uses older surveys by Gallup and others to compare the views of age groups at different times in recent history.

For example, the report said that Pew's massive 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey found young adults to be almost twice as likely to say homosexuality should be accepted by society as those 65 and older, 63 percent versus 35 percent.

Overall in the 30+ age group only 47 percent said homosexuality should be accepted.

The report also said surveys showed that less than a third of Millennial adults saw Hollywood as a threat to their moral values compared to 44 percent of those 30 and over.

Divergent demographic views are also found on the issue of evolution, which almost all biologists accept as an explanation for the diversity of life.

But there is widespread skepticism in America about this especially among evangelical Christians, many of whom believe God created all living things in their current form.

The report said 55 percent of Millennials -- a figure that many scientists would still find alarmingly low -- believe that evolution is the best explanation for human life compared to 47 percent in older age groups. It said this pattern was seen among the both general population and a range of faith traditions.

On questions of faith the report found that by some key measures, the under 29s are losing religion.

It found one-in-four American Millennials unaffiliated with any specific faith, compared to 20 percent of Generation Xers at a comparable point in their lives (the late 1990s). Only 13 percent of Baby Boomers were religiously "unaffiliated" in the late 1970s when they were roughly the age Millennials are now.

But in other ways American Millennials are not so radically different in their religious beliefs.

"Though young adults pray less often than their elders do today, the number of young adults who say they pray every day rivals the portion of young people who said the same in prior decades," the report said.

"This suggests that some of the religious differences between younger and older Americans today are not entirely generational but result in part from people's tendency to place greater emphasis on religion as they age," it noted.

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