Thursday, October 25, 2007

Emerging adulthood

Several studies of the period known as "emerging adulthood" which is "the time of life between ages 18 and 30" give some rather discouraging data about the faith of young adults. From an essay at Books & Culture:
Jeffrey Arnett explored the religious beliefs and practices of the more than one hundred emerging adults he interviewed in various locations around the country. Here is what he concluded:
The most interesting and surprising feature of emerging adults' religious beliefs is how little relationship there is between the religious training they received throughout childhood and the religious beliefs they hold at the time they reach emerging adulthood … . In statistical analyses [of interview subjects' answers], there was no relationship between exposure to religious training in childhood and any aspect of their religious beliefs as emerging adults … . This is a different pattern than is found in adolescence [which reflects greater continuity] … . Evidently something changes between adolescence and emerging adulthood that dissolves the link between the religious beliefs of parents and the beliefs of their children.
Although the transmission of religious faith is not a central concern of Arnett's, he still finds this observation startling. He writes, "How could it be that childhood religious training makes no difference in the kinds of religious beliefs and practices people have by the time they reach emerging adulthood? It doesn't seem to make sense … . It all comes to naught in emerging adulthood? Yet that seems to be the truth of it, surprising as that may be." Need I say that these findings raise serious questions? ....

In his chapter in On the Frontier of Adulthood, National Opinion Research Centers survey researcher Tom Smith analyzes religious differences across age cohorts and across time. He finds that young adults today attend church less, pray less, are less likely to believe the Bible is the word of God, less likely to be Protestant, more likely to identify as non-religious, and have less confidence in organized religion than older adults. At the same time, they are more likely than older adults to believe in life after death.

Young adults are also, for the record, more likely to have grown up in a broken home, less likely to believe human nature is good, more likely to be distrustful of other people and of social institutions generally, less likely to read the newspaper, more likely to expect a world war, much more likely to have viewed a pornographic movie, and much more liberal about sex, divorce, and other social issues than are older adults. Some of this has also changed across young adult cohorts over time. For instance, compared to emerging adults of the same ages in 1973 and 1985, emerging adults more recently are more likely to identify as non-religious and are less likely to be Protestant, attend church, pray, and believe the Bible is God's word. Today's emerging adults compared to those of previous decades are also more distrustful of other people, less likely to vote and read the newspaper, less likely to watch a lot of television, more likely to be in favor of making divorce harder, less in favor of legalizing marijuana, less in favor of teenagers having sex, more in favor of making pornography illegal to all, more likely to expect a world war, and more likely to answer "Don't Know" to survey questions. The picture is obviously complex. Emerging adults will take time and effort to understand well. [more]
It is a distinctly mixed bag. At the very least it appears that Christian education is an abysmal failure.

Getting a Life - Books & Culture

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