The decline in religion maybe slowing


In Religion in Public, Melissa Deckman of Washington College finds that the probability of being a religious none in Gen Z (born after 1995) is the same as for Millenials (born between 1981-1994).

This bombshell finding sent us running for other datasets.

Like all good scientists, we trust, but verify.

In this post, we run through evidence from the General Social Survey, 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (a RIP favourite), and the recent release of the Voter Study Group panel.

The takeaway is that the finding is validated – the rate driving up the religious nones has appeared to be slowing to a crawl. We then discuss some reasons why the rate might be slowing.

It is conventional wisdom at this point that the incidence of religious nones is on a steady rise after 1994.

Driven by a mix of politics, scandal, and weak parental religious socialization, non-affiliates have risen from about 5 percent to 30 percent.

That 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 secularisation (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 Millenials and may have even fallen behind.

Even though it is highly reliable, the GSS is just one dataset and needs to be confirmed, especially with data sources with a larger number of cases.

Therefore, we turned to the 2018 CCES, which has 60,000 cases and 5,000 Gen Zers – plenty with which to generate reliable estimates.

The figure below shows the probability of being religiously unaffiliated for each generation in the data (we combined the few remaining Greatest with the Silent generation).

The lesson is clear – the rate has drastically increased with each generation through to Millennials and has since slowed so that Gen Z is so far no more unaffiliated than Millennials.

In 2018, 42.8% of Millennials were nones (combining atheists, agnostics, and those ‘nothing in particular’), while 42.9% of Gen Zers were nones. Continue reading

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