The millennial generation has been characterized by a broad skepticism of organized religion, with four in ten millennials claiming to be religiously unaffiliated — almost as many as the number who identify as Christian. This has potential to dramatically impact the future of religion in the country, as millennials are more diverse and more liberal than previous generations and thus the future membership of churches may not be any of those things.
But that assumes millennials' lack of religion holds as a permanent trend. Some research indicates that younger people who drift away from religion return to it as they get married and build families, which has led some observers to speculate that millennials' religious preferences will fall more in line with older generations as the population ages.
But as FiveThirtyEight reports, a new survey from the American Enterprise Institute suggests this is not the case.
First, the phenomenon of returning to religion is observed in people who were raised in religious households to begin with, and the survey suggests many millennials were not. Second, millennials are generally pairing off with people who are also non-religious — in earlier eras, religious spouses would often draw their non-religious partners back into practice. And third, millennials do not appear to believe religious is necessary to raise moral and upstanding children. All of these factors indicate that the abandonment of organized religion appears to be permanent.
"Whether people are religious is increasingly tied to — and even driven by — their political identities," wrote FiveThirtyEight. "For years, the Christian conservative movement has warned about a tide of rising secularism, but research has suggested that the strong association between religion and the Republican Party may actually be fueling this divide. And if even more Democrats lose their faith, that will only exacerbate the acrimonious rift between secular liberals and religious conservatives."
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