Experts didn’t expect such a development but it appears the ranks of the “Nones” — people who identify with no religious denomination or following — are no longer increasing and a decline may even be ahead.
That’s the news from two recently completed massive studies, both of which are reported today by the Religion in Public (RIP) blog. In the first, Washington College Political Science Professor Melissa Deckman notes:
“A truism of the American religious landscape is that Americans are becoming more religiously unaffiliated and that this tendency is especially pronounced among the Millennial generation (born between 1981 and 1996).
“As demographers turn to the post-Millennial generation, now called Generation Z (born after 1996), can we expect those trends to stay steady or even accelerate? Studies of Gen Z are just beginning, but there’s very little data that examines the religious behavior of this nascent group.
“I offer a first glimpse. The main takeaway? Gen Z Americans look awfully similar to their Millennial elders when it comes to religious affiliation and religious behavior.”
Deckman’s analysis is based on interviews with more than 2,200 Gen Zers as part of a wider survey dealing with multiple issues, including religious and political concerns.
Calling Deckman’s description of Gen Z as mirroring Millennials a “bombshell,” Dennison University Professor Paul Djube and Ryan Burge of Eastern Illinois University responded by “running for other datasets. Like all good scientists, we trust, but verify.”
Using data from the “General Social Survey, 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (a RIP favorite), and the recent release of the Voter Study Group panel,” Djube and Burge concluded that Deckman’s “finding is validated – the rate driving up the religious nones has appeared to be slowing to a crawl.”
Further, Djube and Burge, noting that the Nones increased from about five percent of the U.S. population to 30 percent since 1994, explain that the “trend appears to be accelerating by generation, so the rate of being a religious None is much greater among Millennials than it is among Greatest, Silent, and Baby Boomer generations as the figure below shows using the General Social Survey time series.
“Those older generations are still experiencing some secularization (the rates are rising across time), but not nearly as rapidly as the young. From this evidence, we expected that the rate of being a none among Gen Z might be even higher, leading to a bump above Millennials.
“The initial, small sample estimate from the General Social Survey, however, suggests that Gen Z is not outpacing Millennials and may have even fallen behind.”
Djupe and Burge acknowledge that their conclusions are derived from a small sample of Gen Zers and “only a few have graduated from college at this point and may be gaining distance from their parents and religious institutions.” In other words, the last word is yet to be heard.