Pew Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, the latest generation to reach adulthood, the so-called "Millennials" (born after 1980 and came into adulthood after 2000), are the least religious generation of all. The survey breaks people into five generations -- the Greatest (born before 1928), the Silent (born 1928 to 1945), the Boomer (born 1946 to 1964), Gen X (born 1965 to 1980), and Millennials (born 1981 or later).
The survey has shown that with each generation there has been less belief in and reliance upon religion, but the Millennials are significantly less religious than any of the preceeding generations. As the chart above shows, only 53% of Millennials have no doubt that god exists (with all other generations being at or above 61%). The Millennials also pray less, go to church less, believe less in a literal interpretation of the Bible, and less of them say religion is an important part of their lives. They are also socially more liberal (on things like homosexuality and pornography).
There is the idea that the young are always searching, and they will come back to their religion as they get older -- and that is probably true of some. But the fact is that the number of those turning their backs on religion among the Millennials is larger than any of the generations before them. More than a quarter of Millennials say they are unaffiliated with any faith at all. At this same point in their lives the unaffiliated figure for Gen X was 20%, and for the Boomers it was 13%.
Why is this happening? I believe it is because young people (and older) are no longer ostracized and made to feel they are isolated if they don't accept the predominant religious views of their community. There are more secular and atheist organizations now than ever before (secular organizations on college campuses have, just in the last couple of years, grown from less than 100 to nearly 400 -- and organizations are now being established in many high schools).
There is also the internet. Even if a person lives in a small and highly religious toen, it is easy to get on the internet and reach out to other humanists and atheists -- and there are plenty to reach out to (with the United States alone having around 30 million atheists). No one has to feel isolated anymore for not believing in god or accepting religion.
There are more interesting graphs from the Pew survey below the fold.