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Losing the Faith: Americans, Even Older Ones, are Turning Away from Religion

Baby Boomers, too, are dropping out.

I grew up Catholic in a small town in North Central Illinois.

Back then, religion was something you inherited from your parents. We went to Catholic school through the eighth grade, dutifully did our Confirmation, and us guys served as altar boys.

The same happened with my parents as they were growing up, with religion playing an important part of all of life’s milestones. The elderly especially look to their church for social activities, a reason to get out of the house, and people you could count on for help.

How times have changed – for people of all ages.

But let’s start with the youngsters. A growing number of the younger generations aren’t identifying with any organized religion at all, according to a new poll by Pew Research Center. The survey of 35,000 adults shows that about seven in 10 people identify with some branch of Christianity. Just seven years ago, that share exceeded 78 percent. The same survey showed that those who said they were agnostic or atheist rose from 16 percent to 23 percent, and the number of non-Christians rose from 5 to 6 percent, with gains for Muslims and Hindus.

Instead of following in the religious footsteps of our elders, as our parents, uncles and other older relatives pass, the younger generations who move into adulthood aren’t continuing the same religious affiliation.

Among the Silent Generation of those born between 1928 and 1945, 85 percent list themselves as Christian, and 11 percent say they’re unaffiliated. It only drops to 78 percent for the Baby Boomer Generation born between 1946 and 1964, with 17 percent unaffiliated.

It drops off even further for Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1980. Some 70 percent identify as Christians and 23 percent say their unaffiliated.

Millennials bring up the rear, with between 56 and 57 percent identifying as Christians and 34 to 36 percent say their unaffiliated.

Yet, not all of the recent drop in religion can be blamed on generational replacement – Pew researchers say some in the older generations are moving away from organized religion, too.

“Baby Boomers also have become slightly but noticeably more likely to identify as religious nones in recent years,” according to Pew.

Some 18 percent of American adults were raised in a religious faith and now identify with no religion. Only 9 percent say they were raised with no religious affiliation, and almost half of them (4.3 percent of all U.S. adults) now identify with some religion, Pew says.

“But for every person who has joined a religion after having been raised unaffiliated,” Pew says, “there are more than four people who have become religious nones after having been raised in some religion.”

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