How the Core Beliefs and Behaviors of Millennials Compare to Those of Other Adults
Millennials are becoming an increasingly important generation in American life. As the segment reaches its young adult years, it represents the nation’s primary birthing generation; a large wave of newcomers to the workforce; the dominant niche of newlyweds; and the fastest growing constituency of newly eligible or registered voters. As they form new households or establish themselves as consumers they are also becoming a highly desired target for marketers and active participants in the real estate market.
But Millennials also represent one of the most spiritually challenging generations to reach adulthood in the past century. While the Baby Boom generation broke the mold of faith traditions and preferences some 50 years ago, Millennials are raising a new set of challenges to Christianity and to a nation whose morals and values have long reflected biblical principles.
The Worldview Measurement Project, conducted by the American Culture and Faith Institute, reveals that Millennials are, by far, the generation least likely to possess a biblical worldview. While 16% of those in the Boomer and Builder generations possess such an outlook, and just 7% of Baby Busters have a biblical worldview, only one-quarter as many Millennials have a biblical worldview – just 4%!
This startling distinction in their choice of worldview is reflected in various indicators of their lifestyle. For instance:
- Only 59% of Millennials consider themselves to be Christian. That compares to 72% of adults from older generations
- Less than two out of every ten adults 30 or older (18%) claims to be in the atheist-agnostic-none faith preference category. Nearly three out of every ten Millennials embrace that category (28%)
- One out of every three older adults (33%) is a born again Christian, stating that they will experience eternity in Heaven with God after their death on earth only because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Far fewer Millennials (20%) share that expectation
- A minority of adults 30 or older (43%) supports same-sex marriage. However, nearly two-thirds of those under 30 (65%) support it
- Conservatives outnumber liberals by a 2:1 margin among adults 30 or older (28% versus 12%). Yet, the opposite is true among Millennials: only 12% are conservative while 26% are liberal
- Millennials are the generation most likely to prefer socialism over capitalism (44% compared to 35% among older adults)
- While only 6% of adults 30 or older claim to be in the LGBT community, two-and-a-half times as many (15%) adopt that label among Millennials
Major Differences in Beliefs
Of the 20 questions in the belief section of the Worldview Measurement Project, Millennials were statistically different from other adults on 12 of those indicators. There was only one measure on which Millennials were more likely than other US adults to have a biblical perspective: they are less likely to believe that all people are basically good. However, even on that measure, a majority of the adults under 30 years of age (59%) held a belief that conflicts with the biblical view.
Overall, the survey discovered that Millennials are less likely than older adults to have a biblical view on 19 of the 20 beliefs evaluated. The largest gaps between the beliefs of older adults and those of Millennials related to the nature of God; the existence of absolute moral truth; concepts concerning evil; and the personal importance of faith.
Substantial Distinctions in Behavior
The Worldview Measurement Project included 20 questions related to biblical behavior. The survey results noted that Millennials were statistically different from other adults on 14 of those indicators. There were three measures on which Millennials were more likely than other US adults to have a biblical perspective: personal interest in the well-being of others, choosing service over personal progress, and sharing their religious beliefs with people who believe differently.
In total, Millennials emerged as less likely than older adults to have a biblical view on 11 of the 20 behaviors evaluated.
The largest gaps between the beliefs of older adults and those held by Millennials – differences of 15 percentage points or more – concerned the moral acceptability of cheating on taxes, using non-prescription drugs for recreational purposes, and getting married to someone of the same sex; and being less likely to worship God other than within a church service.
Patterns and Probabilities
George Barna, the Executive Director of the American Culture and Faith Institute, noted that younger adults have historically held less conservative values than their elders. “The question that remains is how much the views of Millennials will eventually move to the right on the ideological continuum. The challenge to conservatives is that the current views of Millennials are so far to the left-of-center that even a typical amount of repositioning over time will leave the youngest generation considerably more liberal than desired, and more distant from traditional norms than has been the case during our lifetime.”
Asked how likely it is that Millennials will eventually embrace a biblical worldview, Barna demurred. “Remember, a person’s worldview is typically developed between the ages of about 18 months and 13 years,” the social scientist explained. “There is usually very little movement in a worldview after that point. You could say with confidence that the worldview a person possesses at age 13 is probably the worldview they will die with. Unless pre-existing patterns radically change, we are not likely to ever see the Millennial generation reach even ten percent who have a biblical worldview.”
Barna also identified one of the most important implications of this situation. “Parents are one of the most important influences on the worldview of their children, and Millennials are entering their prime childbearing years. But because 24 of every 25 Millennials lack a biblical worldview today, the probability of them transmitting such to their children is extremely low. You cannot give what you don’t have. In other words, if today’s children are going to eventually embrace a biblical worldview, people with such a perspective must exert substantial influence on the nation’s children to supply what their parents are unable to give them. The United States goes to great lengths to assist in the economic welfare of millions of people. It appears that we now need those who possess a biblical worldview to step in and impact the spiritual well-being of our future adults as well.”