Survey Shows Most Young Americans Value Faith, but Eschew Organized Religion

The results of a groundbreaking nationwide study of the comparative religious identities of America’s “Generation Y” were released yesterday by the Bookings Institution in Washington D.C.

Conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research on behalf of Reboot, a national network for young Jews, the report showed that the majority of American college-level youth between age 18 and 25 value faith and spirituality. However, when it comes to the practice, they prefer the informal and personal means over the traditional religious institutions.

According to the survey, the plurality of Generation Y (46%) is classified as "Undecided," valuing faith, but preferring to express it informally. The remaining respondents are identified as either “Godly” - highly religious (27%) or “Godless” - non-religious (27%).

Roger Bennett, co-founder of Reboot, said in a recent news release by Michael Kaminer Public Relations(MKPR),that such findings present critical challenges for America’s religious institutions.

"The religious establishment is failing to connect with Generation Y, the most diverse and individualist group in American history," Bennett said.

"iTunes, Tivo, and MoveOn have shown this generation that it is possible to bypass the 'middleman' and take control of their own experiences, whether it's a song list or politics. Religious institutions have to recognize this reality if they want to be more meaningful to them," he said.

In addition, the survey reveals that teens express their faith in informal ways that are either communal or individualistic, such as praying before meals (55%), talking with friends (38%), or reading religious magazines, books, and newspapers (33%).

According to the report, the youth enjoy "a genuine attachment to religious life" and are "more disconnected from traditional denominations than their older counterparts… [and] favor more informal ways to practice their faith as opposed to attending services, classes, or formal activity."

The survey, however, reveals that young people who identify as highly religious (27%) tend to be more self-aware and significantly more connected to family and community.

"One of the most remarkable findings of the study is that on every measure, highly religious youth better understand themselves and their place in the community more than less religious youth," said the report’s author, Anna Greenberg, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

"The results send a clear message: Demand for meaning and community is there, but few in Gen Y are finding it in churches, mosques, or synagogues," Bennett said. "The question now is whether established institutions will adapt or innovate to meet this generation’s particular spiritual needs."

Among other significant findings are: a highly tolerant, progressive worldview of the youth including even those who identity as religious; the majority (53 percent)supporting same-sex marriages and a larger majority (63 percent) supporting legalized abortion.

Furthermore, the report shows a decline in denominationalism and a concurrent rise in the number of people unwilling to align with a denomination at all.

The report’s author, Anna Greenberg, is vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, and Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She was inspired to undertake this groundbreaking national study after attending a Reboot Summit in May 2003.