America's Millennials are less likely to believe in God compared to older generations. They are also less attached to organized politics and religion, are linked by social media, distrustful of people and in no hurry to marry, but they are optimistic about the country's future, a new Pew Research Center report shows.
About 29 percent of adults aged 18-33 say they are not affiliated with any religion, shows the Pew study released Friday. Eleven percent say they don't believe in God compared to 6 percent of Gen Xers. Fifty-eight percent of Millennials say they are absolutely certain of their belief in God while 69 percent of Gen Xers say the same. Twenty-eight percent of Millennials and 24 percent of Gen Xers say they believe in God but aren't certain.
Meanwhile, half of Millennials describe themselves as political independents.
The study notes that these are at or near the highest levels of religious and political disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the quarter-century that the research group has been polling on these topics.
"It's not that they don't have strong opinions, political opinions – they do," said Paul Taylor, co-author of the report. "It's simply that they choose not to identify themselves with either political party."
While many Millennials call themselves political independents, they tend to support Democrats and liberal views on many political and social issues, ranging from a belief in an activist government to support for same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization, the study adds.
The support for gay marriage among Millennials has increased from 44 percent in 2004 to 68 percent now, and marijuana legalization from 34 percent to 69 percent, the research says. However, their views on gun control and abortion are similar to those of older generations.
Millennials are also somewhat less enthusiastic than older adults about environmentalism. Just 32 percent said green issues describe them very well, compared with at least 40 percent among all older generations.
The study found that only about one-fourth of this generation is married. Sixty-nine percent of unmarried Millennials say they would like to marry, but many – especially those with lower levels of income and education – lack what they think is necessary for marriage, a solid economic foundation.
They are "forging a distinctive path into adulthood," according to Taylor.
Millennials are a transitional generation, which partly explains their political liberalism. Some 43 percent of Millennial adults are non-white, the highest share of any generation.
More than half of white Millennials identify as independent, compared to 47 percent of their non-white counterparts. Thirty-seven percent of non-white Millennials associate with Democrats, and only 9 percent with Republicans.
Racial diversity may also partly explain their low levels of social trust, the research suggested. Asked the question, "Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people," less than 20 percent agreed.
Millennials are almost as likely as their elders to have a favorable view of business, and they are more likely than older generations to say they support an activist government, the report added.
They are also "digital natives," as 81 percent of them are on Facebook with a median friend count of 250, far higher than that of older age groups.
They are also somewhat more optimistic than older adults about the country's future, with 49 percent saying the America's best days are ahead, a view held by 42 percent of Gen Xers, 44 percent of Boomers and 39 percent of Silents.
The study was based on a survey conducted Feb. 14-23, 2014, among 1,821 adults nationwide, including 617 Millennial adults, and analysis of other Pew Research Center surveys conducted between 1990 and 2014.