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Having eyes, see ye not?

August 1, 2022

Over drinks, the topic turned to the surging influence of religion. My date rolled her eyes that people still believe such “fairy tales.” She mentioned that on our last visit, our six year-old grandson asked her if Santa Claus was real? She did the smart thing, and turned the question around on him, asking what he thought?

ChurchAttendanceByAgeCohortGallup’s recent poll shows that Americans’ belief in a god has dropped to 81%, a new low. The importance of that depends quite a bit on whether it is caused by social winds affecting people of all age, or more a generational change carried by demographic tides. The former can move quickly, and change direction unexpectedly. The latter stays a course for a while.

Ryan Burge provides relevant data to that question. He went through the General Social Survey for the last few decades, graphing church attendance by age cohort. Click the diagram right to expand. The generational change is pretty dramatic. For those born 1980 or later, weekly church attendance hovers around 20%. With the odd exception of the 1990 to 1994 cohort.

Some writers credit the decline in religious belief to its association with right-wing politics. Just looking at the graph of belief from the Gallup article linked above, the accelerated slump since 2016 is remarkable. And that is reflected in several of the age cohorts from Burge’s graphs. But, those graphs point to a larger underlying trend, that began earlier and is likely to continue regardless of shifts in political alignment.

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