Millennials: Crisis or Opportunity for Catholics?

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madrid_world_youth_day_nationalturk-2458The Pew Research Center recently released a comprehensive poll on the attitudes of young adults in the Millennial generation (ages 18-33). The results are very similar to what other surveys have found. The current generation of young adults tends to have fairly liberal views on economic issues and is somewhat less likely than other age groups to identify with one of the two major political parties. Of greater concern to Catholics is the fact that this generation of young adults is not particularly religious and has fairly liberal views on a range of social and sexual issues.

Specifically, the Pew survey found that only 36 percent of Millennials considered themselves to be “a religious person.” Conversely, over 50 percent of respondents from all the other age groups considered themselves “religious.” Milliennials were also more likely than others to express doubts about the existence of God. As such, it is unsurprising that Millennials tend to have liberal views on a range of social issues. Indeed, of all the age groups surveyed, Millennials were the most supportive of both same sex marriage and marijuana legalization. Sixty seven percent favored allowing gays and lesbians to marry and 69 percent supported marijuana legalization.

One of the few issues where the attitude of Millennials was similar to those of other demographic groups was abortion. Fifty six percent of Millennials felt that abortion should be legal in “all” or “most” cases. This figure is somewhat higher than what has been reported in other surveys. However, Millennials were actually less supportive of legal abortion than those from Generation X (ages 34-49) Similarly, the attitudes of Millennials on this issue were similar to those of baby boomers (ages 50-68). This is consistent with a significant body of survey research which shows that the generation gap in abortion attitudes is diminishing.

Surveys like this are concerning for Catholics. However, there is no reason to despair. Research shows that people tend to become more religious and more socially conservative as they get older. Furthermore, public opinion trends on the abortion issue should give Catholics heart. During the 1970s, surveys consistently showed huge generation gaps on abortion attitudes. In fact, some feared for the long-term viability of the pro-life movement – thinking young adults would retain their “pro-choice” beliefs and subsequent generations of young adults would also support legal abortion. However, young adults became more “pro-life” as they got older and there is a growing body of evidence that young adults today are more receptive to the pro-life position. Indeed, Catholics certainly have our work cut out for us — but demography is not necessarily destiny.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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About Author

MICHAEL J. NEW, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan – Dearborn. He is also an Adjunct Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the Research and Education Arm of the Susan B. Anthony List. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Dartmouth College, Dr. New received a master’s degree in statistics and a doctorate in political science from Stanford University in 2002. Before coming to Michigan, Dr. New worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-MIT Data Center and later taught at The University of Alabama. Dr. New researches and writes about the social science of pro-life issues. He gives presentations on both the positive impact of pro-laws and the gains in public support for the pro-life position. He is a frequent blogger on National Review Online's "The Corner." Dr. New's study pro-life legislation was recently published by State Politics and Policy Quarterly. Four of his other studies on the effects of pro-life legislation have been published by the Heritage Foundation and another study was published by Family Research Council in 2008.

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