A new survey by the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute demonstrates that the conventional wisdom about the millennial generation being more socially liberal than previous generations is true — so long as white evangelical Protestants are factored out of the equation.
The majority of millennials in all but one racial and religious group believe that emphasizing contraception is more effective at preventing pregnancy than teaching abstinence. Eighty percent of millennials with no religious affiliation believe this, as do nearly 70 percent of white mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Hispanic Catholics and 60 percent of black and Hispanic Protestants.
Only half of white evangelical Protestants, however, believe in the effectiveness of contraception — and almost 40 percent of them strongly believe the opposite, that abstinence education is more effective.
Still, more than 70 percent of millennials across all subgroups said that it is morally acceptable to use contraception, and almost 80 percent of them said that multiple forms of contraception should be made easily available on college campuses.
The only issue in which the millennial opinion mirrored that of the general population is the legality of abortion, with 55 percent saying that it should be legal in all or most cases, and almost 35 percent claiming that it should be illegal in all of most cases. As should be expected, religious affiliation played a strong role in this opinion, with nearly half of all Catholics and 80 percent of Protestants saying that it should be illegal in all or most cases.
The survey’s most interesting findings related to what it refers to as “the situationalist ethics of millennials on sexual behavior,” that is, those situations in which millennials do not perceive there to be a black-or-white moral prescription for behavior. Across all racial and ethnic lines, the survey consistently found that millennials found casual sex to be more morally wrong than homosexuality.
Thirty-seven percent believe that “sex between two adults who have no intention of establishing a relationship” is morally wrong, whereas 42 percent believe that “sex between two adults of the same gender” is morally acceptable.
Millennials also overwhelmingly believe that it is morally acceptable to cohabitate before marriage or have a child out of wedlock — 70 percent of them believe it is either morally acceptable, or morally acceptable depending on the situation.
The majority of millennials also claim that discrimination against women is a significant problem — especially in the workplace. In aggregate, 60 percent believe that women receive fewer opportunities than men to premium jobs and, when they get them, do not receive equal pay for equal work. Even among those participants who identify as Republican, 50 percent of them believe that discrimination against women is still a significant social force.
Nearly 80 percent of black Protestant, white Catholic, Hispanic Catholic, religiously unaffiliated, and white mainline Protestants believe that members of the LGBT community deserve laws protecting them against discrimination. Again, white evangelical Protestants were the outliers, though not by as much as to be expected, as a slim 51 percent majority favor such protection.