As the share of those with no religious affiliation continues to grow in the United States, particularly among the young, a recent study released by the Pew Research Center says religious disaffection among younger generations is not just an American problem but a global one.
Regardless of a nation's economic strength or religious tradition, an analysis of Pew Research Center surveys in 106 countries and territories over the last decade has found religious disaffection to be a common thread among younger adults.
The study found for example that adults younger than 40 are less likely than older adults to say religion is "very important" in their lives. This is true not only in wealthy and relatively secular countries such as Canada, Japan and Switzerland, but also in countries that are less affluent and more religious, such as Iran, Poland and Nigeria, the Pew Research Center said.
While the study also found no statistically significant difference in levels of religious observance between younger and older adults in many countries, it found that whenever there was a difference in religiosity between generations, younger adults were always found to be less religious than older cohorts.
In 46 of the 106 countries studied, adults ages 18 to 39 saw religion as less important than those 40 and over while no statistical difference was found between the cohorts in 58 countries. In the former Soviet republic of Georgia and the West African country of Ghana, however, younger adults were found to be on average more religious than older citizens.
The study also reflected many variations in the religiosity divide between the groups based on geographical locations and other factors. It also highlighted a number of explanations for why many young people around the world tend to be less religious than their older countrymen.
"Some scholars argue that people naturally become more religious as they age; to others, the age gap is a sign that parts of the world are secularizing (i.e., becoming less religious over time)," the study says.
"But even if parts of the world are secularizing, it is not necessarily the case that the world's population, overall, is becoming less religious. On the contrary, the most religious areas of the world are experiencing the fastest population growth because they have high fertility rates and relatively young populations," the Pew experts explain.
It was also noted that younger generations around the world tended to be better educated than their parents and that could also be a factor in their stepping away from religion.
"In societies where access to education is spreading and the average number of years of schooling is rising, younger generations tend to receive more education than their parents and grandparents did. Directly or indirectly, this increase in education could be part of why younger adults are less religious," the study says.
It was further suggested that people also tended to get more religious as they get older and begin to face their mortality, explaining the higher levels of religiosity among older adults.
Researchers also observed that people in poorer parts of the world are, on average, more religious than those in societies with advanced economies. Other indicators of economic development — such as education, life expectancy and income equality — also tend to align with measures of religious commitment, the study explains.