Religiosity almost inevitably declines with each new generation of Americans, but for Generation Z — those born between 1999 and 2015 — the shift away from religion is particularly noteworthy.
According to a recent study conducted jointly by Barna Group and the Impact 360 Institute, Generation Z is “the first truly ‘post-Christian’ generation”.
More than any other generation before them, Gen Z does not assert a religious identity. They might be drawn to things spiritual, but with a vastly different starting point from previous generations, many of whom received a basic education on the Bible and Christianity. And it shows: The percentage of Gen Z that identifies as atheist is double that of the U.S. adult population.
For Gen Z, “atheist” is no longer a dirty word: The percentage of teens who identify as such is double that of the general population (13% vs. 6% of all adults). The proportion that identifies as Christian likewise drops from generation to generation. Three out of four Boomers are Protestant or Catholic Christians (75%), while just three in five 13- to 18-year-olds say they are some kind of Christian (59%).
Much like Millennials, Gen Z members are particularly troubled by the problem of evil: how can there be so much evil in the world if there is also a good and loving God?
They are unmoved by the explanations religion has to offer — 29 percent of Gen Z nonbelievers and 30 percent of their Millennial counterparts say a good God and evil are not compatible.
The notion of absolute religious truth also presents an issue for Gen Z, a group that is more inclined to embrace spiritual relativism.
More than one-third of Gen Z (37%) believes it is not possible to know for sure if God is real, compared to 32 percent of all adults. On the other side of the coin, teens who do believe one can know God exists are less likely than adults to say they are very convinced that is true (54% vs. 64% all adults who believe in God). For many teens, truth seems relative at best and, at worst, altogether unknowable.
Their lack of confidence is on pace with the broader culture’s all-out embrace of relativism. More than half of all Americans, both teens (58%) and adults (62%), agree with the statement “Many religions can lead to eternal life; there is no ‘one true religion.’” There’s a sense among Gen Z that what’s true for someone else may not be “true for me”; they are much less apt than older adults (especially Boomers, 85%) to agree that “a person can be wrong about something that they sincerely believe in” (66%). For a considerable minority of teens, sincerely believing something makes it true.
Still, nearly half of teens say the need “factual evidence” to support their beliefs, at 46 percent.
[This] helps to explain their uneasiness with the relationship between science and the Bible. Significantly fewer teens and young adults (28% and 25%) than Gen X and Boomers (36% and 45%) see the two as complementary.
About the study:
Two nationally representative studies of teens were conducted. The first was conducted using an online consumer panel November 4–16, 2016, and included 1,490 U.S. teenagers 13 to 18 years old. The second was conducted July 7–18, 2017, and also used an online consumer panel, which included 507 U.S. teenagers 13 to 18 years old. The data from both surveys were minimally weighted to known U.S. Census data in order to be representative of ethnicity, gender, age and region.
One nationally representative study of 1,517 U.S. adults ages 19 and older was conducted using an online panel November 4–16, 2016. The data were minimally weighted to known U.S. Census data in order to be representative of ethnicity, gender, age and region.