Millennials’ family life challenges faith and community

Millennials’ family life radically differs from past generations, according to a new study.

Catholic leaders and scholars say this presents particular challenges for passing on the faith and building the Catholic community.

Last month’s Pew Research Center analysis revealed millennials are slower than previous generations to build their own households. Most choose to delay marriage and childbearing.

Only 30 percent live with a spouse and their own child, over half are unmarried and those who do marry, do so much later in life.

Millennial women are less likely to give birth, compared to previous generations.

Professor Christian Smith of the University of Notre Dame says the research shows Catholic millennials’ family life is similar to other people of their generation.

“American religion and American family are closely connected. If people are not engaging in family formation, if they’re delaying that or never having families, they’re going to be much less likely to be involved in the Church.”

“All of these social changes are connected to a weakening of parish life.”

Smith says parishes are based on rootedness, a sense of place, continuity and community.

He endorses Pew’s finding that increasingly and generationally, “there’s more transience, less commitment, and that leads to less rootedness.”

Even if parishes adapt, a “core group of people” who are willing to stay and offer the typical parish services of a parish is still needed.

Smith thinks most Church leaders and their congregations know this, but demographic and cultural forces driven by economic and technological changes make this difficult.

While new programming can help, the ultimate factor will be parents who are intentionally involved in their children’s formation and model what they want their children to practise.

The Archdiocese of Portland’s director of Marriage and Family Life agrees the Pew analysis rings true of Catholic millennials.

“Marriage tends to be the cherry on top after you get everything else established.”

When it comes to connecting young people to a parish, he says while better programming is always desired, ultimately it comes down to relationships. In some ways it goes back to Jesus “who hung out with a group of guys, went camping and fishing, and shared life together.”

If young people feel the parish offers authentic connections, they will be more inclined to stay, invest and perhaps consider pursuing the Catholic vision of marriage and family life.

Sister Patricia Wittberg, of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, cautions most data is limited to middle or upper class white individuals.

People used to fall away from religious practice in their late teens, get married in their mid twenties have children a year or two later, and then start going back to church, she says.

Today’s millennials are not getting married or having children until their mid-thirties.

“And this presents serious challenges where we’re still trying to figure out how to respond.”



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