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Talkin’ Bout My Generation (and Religion)

Amidst all the attention being paid to the rise of the "nones" among Millennials, a new study suggests that 40-somethings are also disaffiliating at a surprising rate. According to yesterday's Washington Post, Gen Xers are becoming less religious (and less Republican) as they've aged. Michelle Boorstein reports:

Generation X-ers — people born between 1965 and 1972 — are bucking previous demographic trends by becoming less religiously affiliated and less Republican even as they’ve aged, according to one of the biggest surveys of American religiosity.

The data released Thursday by Trinity College also show the percentage of Gen X-ers who call themselves Christian dropping by 10 percentage points in the period looked at, 1990 to 2008. In 1990, when Gen X-ers were ages 18 to 25, 85 percent of this group said they were Christian; the number dropped to 75 percent in 2008.

The analysis of Gen X people, who are today 40 to 47 years old, is the latest slice of data released from the massive American Religious Identification Survey, one of the country’s biggest demographic polls. It was done in 1990 with more than 113,000 people and again in 2008 with more than 54,000 people.

Granted, this survey has a more narrow definition of what constitutes Gen X. With these parameters, even my beloved President Obama no longer qualifies as a Gen Xer, since it was 1961 when he was born in, um, Kenya.

Survey quibbles aside, this is startling news. Traditionally in American history, generations have gotten more religious and more conservative as they age, not less.

Leave it to my delightfully crabby mini-generation to break the mold.


The image of the X is used with permission of

Topics: Faith, Doctrine & Practice
Beliefs: Christian - Catholic, Christian - Orthodox, Christian - Protestant, Mormon
Tags: flunking sainthood, generation x, generation x and religion, jana riess, michelle boorstein, president barack obama, the rise of the "nones" in american religion, washington post


  1. Apparently the bulk of the loss is among Gen Xers who were white Catholics, down by 1.7 million in the period., while Latino Catholics made up only partially by adding 1 million to this cohort.  The survey report did not seem to have collected data on the reasons why people had disaffiliated from their former churches, but this concentration in one denomination would seem to be a good focus for study. 

    Interestingly, the second largest disaffiliation was from various Baptist denominations, which seems to reflect the trend in the Southern Baptist Convention over the last 15 years of total membership growth slowing, then stopping for five years, and then markedly reversing on the order of 50,000 members a year for the last 5 years.  Again, there seems to be something specific about these denominations that has led to disaffiliation by Gen X.  One assumes that those churches have already done detailed research along those lines in an effort to reverse this trend.  Have they published any findings about the cause, and made recommendations for change?

  2. It’s a great question—why is this happening? In Roman Catholicism, at least some of the disaffection is attributed to the clergy sex abuse scandal. The fact that some priests had abused children was horrible enough, but for many people, the point of exodus was in learning the extent of the Church’s ongoing attempts to shove it under the rug.

    But it’s not just Roman Catholicism. Disaffiliation has affected most religious traditions, including evangelicalism, Judaism, and Mormonism. (In fact, among Mormons it seems particularly striking.
    According to ARIS (the same group that conducted this survey), in 1972, 92.6 percent of people who had been Mormons at age sixteen still identified as Mormon when surveyed as adults. In the 2000s, that number had dropped to 64.4 percent, a sharp decline. Maybe I should discuss that in a future post.)

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