Young Americans more loyal to religion than Boomers

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Younger Americans, between the ages of 36 to 50, are more likely to be loyal to religion than Baby Boomers, according to new research.

Shavon Gardner, 17, prays as she sings with the Redeemed Christian Church of God youth choir at Redemption Camp in Floyd, Texas June 17, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

In a study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Philip Schwadel, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said this was true even though they were less likely than previous generations to have been brought up with a religion.

He said the trend “is good news for those who worry about declining religious adherence.”

Schwadel attributed the younger generation’s overall loyalty to religion to a less staid and more innovative religious scene in America today, while religion in the past was more conservative, less diverse and stricter.

If people are not happy with one religion now, they can easily switch to a different denomination or faith, he added.

By contrast, Baby Boomers were a more rebellious generation and experienced the anti-establishment culture of the 1960s.

“It’s a whole cultural package of suggestions of what went on to make that generation different,” he said.

Schwadel’s findings are based the General Social Survey (GSS) of more than 37,000 people from 1973 to 2006, which monitors change and the growing complexity of American society.

He found that the percentage of Americans without a religious affiliation doubled in the 1990s and has continued to increase in the first decade of this century.

Non-affiliation with any religion grew from 6 to 8 percent in the 1970s and 1980s to almost 16 percent in 2006.

The professor attributed the change to what he described as “a backlash by political liberals against the conservatism of the 1980s and into the 90s.”

He suggests that liberal people who had only a tangential connection to religion may have decided to leave their faith because of the conservative emphasis on religion.

“The Boomers’ enmity toward organized religion is still evident in the relatively large proportion of their children and grandchildren who are raised with no religious affiliation,” he added.

Reporting by Daniel Lippman; Editing by Patricia Reaney