Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Most young Americans strongly believe in having choices, an attitude that is likely to shape their identification with traditional religions, a study says.

“Generation Y,” born between 1980 and 2000, is “bringing [media] industries to their knees” by embracing IPod, TiVo and other technologies that allow unprecedented consumer choice, said Roger Bennett, co-founder of Reboot, a Jewish group that is examining generational issues.

The big question is how traditional religions will respond to a new generation of Americans who value choice, informality and personal expression, he said.

It may mean the rise of “orthodoxy a la carte,” where, as with IPods and music, young Americans take a “mix and match” approach to religion, said Bill Galston, a domestic policy adviser in the Clinton administration.

It also could mean an even deeper culture war, said Mr. Galston, as young Americans push their religious pluralism and a backlash emerges from other young Americans who don’t want to lose traditional and religious moorings.

Reboot’s study, “OMG! How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era,” was released yesterday in a press conference at the Brookings Institution. The study is based on a survey last year of 1,385 persons ages 18 to 25.

To add depth, samples of black, Muslim, Jewish, Asian and Hispanic youths were included, said Anna Greenberg, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a firm known for its work with liberal political groups.

The Reboot study drew on other research, including the General Social Survey and a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner study on “America’s Evangelicals,” for data on religious characteristics of older generations.

The Reboot study found that 23 percent of Generation Y, like Generation X, do not identify with a religious denomination or don’t believe in God. This is more than twice the number of nonbelievers among baby boomers, or those born between 1946 and 1965, Ms. Greenberg noted. Generation X was born between 1966 and 1979.

Twenty-six percent of young Americans call themselves Protestants, but the survey showed that 14 percent of the generation belonged to “other” kinds of Christian churches.

Catholic identification was stable, with 20 percent of both Generation Y and Generation X choosing this faith. However, the number was down from 23 percent Catholic identification among baby boomers.

Generation Y members also were strongly religiously pluralistic — only 7 percent said “all” their friends were of the same religion, and about 10 percent said they belonged to a non-Christian religion.

Previous studies of religion have indicated that young adulthood is often a time when religious interest drops. Federal data tracked by the Washington-based research group Child Trends shows that 12th-graders are less likely than eighth-graders to say that religion plays an important role in their lives. The trend is reflected in student attendance at weekly religious services.

Still, religious identity plays a significant role in the lives of Generation Y, Ms. Greenberg said yesterday. More than half said they regularly pray before meals, and a third or more said they talk about religion with friends, attend worship services and read religious materials every week.

The Reboot survey further found that Generation Y was “more liberal and progressive” than older generations, both in political leanings and on social issues such as homosexual “marriage” and immigration. Fifty-four percent of voters younger than 30 voted for Sen. John Kerry last year — the only age group the Democratic presidential candidate carried, the study noted.

However, although many of these young Americans worry about getting good grades and finding work after school, their biggest concern is the solidly “moral” issue of nonmarital sex — 35 percent of Generation Y members are “very worried” about “getting a sexually transmitted disease,” the study noted.

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