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Press: Generation X Becoming Less Christian, Less Republican; Catholic and Baptist Losses feed Religious Polarization

HARTFORD, CT, May 31, 2012 – Members of Generation X – the 35 million Americans born between 1965 and 1972 – have become less Christian and less Republican over the course of their adult lives, a new study by Trinity College shows. Striking declines in the number of Catholics and Baptists combined with sharp increases in the number of non-denominational Christians and those claiming no religious affiliation (Nones) show increased religious polarization in this generation, even as its political re-orientation towards the Democratic Party has been accompanied by modest growth in the number of political independents.

Born in the wake of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the Gen X-ers constituted the most Catholic generational cohort in American history, with fully one-third of them identifying as Catholics in 1990. But two decades later, approximately one out of five had fallen away from the faith. It was only thanks to the addition of approximately one million Latino Catholics their own age that the proportion of Gen X Catholics decreased to only 26 percent of the cohort.

In addition, shifts in religious identification since 1990 have resulted in the ranks of the Nones swelling by 67 percent (2.2 million persons) and those in the conservative, non-denominational Generic Christian tradition growing by 51 percent (1.8 million). Put another way, the percentage of self-proclaimed Nones increased from 11 percent to 16 percent of this cohort between 1990 and 2008. This increase is surprising since Americans have historically increased their religious identification between early adulthood and their mid-40s, as theymarry, have children, and become settled in their communities.

Those were among the key findings of a new report by Barry Kosmin and Juhem Navarro-Rivera at Trinity College, who looked at the religious and political affiliations of Generation X, whose members reached adulthood during an era when American society was much influenced by the Christian Right. The findings are important as predictorsabout the future of American society, particularly the relationship betweenreligion and politics, issues that have been front and center during this year’s presidential campaign.

The data are derived from the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), a large, nationally representative sample of adults in the Continental United States. The surveys were conducted in 1990 and again in 2008, highlighting trends over an 18-year period. The 1990 ARIS involved 113,723 respondents, including 16,959 adultsbetween the ages of 18 and 25 years. The 2008 ARIS had an overall sample size of 54,461, with 6,407 respondents between the ages of 36 and 43 years.

“Generation X has shifted its allegiances to a surprising degree” said Barry Kosmin, director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC) at Trinity. “Many in this generation of Americans have abandoned their religious roots and political affiliations in adulthood. Historically and sociologically, that’s an unexpected development.”

In terms of political affiliation, Gen X-ers leaned Republican by 5 percentage points in 1990 (34 percent to 29 percent Democratic), but in 2008 they favored the Democratic Party by 7 percentage points (33 percent to 26 percent Republican) This partisan shiftaway from the GOP was even more pronounced among Generation X Nones. In 1990, Nones were evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, but by 2008, Nones leaned Democratic by more than 2 to 1 (33 percent to 15 percent).

“The fact that identification with religion declined among Generation X as they aged suggests that the secularization of Americans is not just about young people from today’s Millennial Generation abandoning religion because it has become too politicized,” said Juhem Navarro-Rivera, a research fellow at the ISSSC. “It is also an ongoing and wider process that involves older generations in American society, as exemplified by Generation X.”

The report’s religion data are based on responses to the question: What is your religion, if any? And the political party data are based on responses to the question: Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, Democrat or Independent?

For more information about the ARIS series methodology, please visit: http://commons.trincoll.edu/aris/about-aris/metholodogy.

For more information contact Barry Kosmin at 860-297-2388 or barry.kosmin@trincoll.edu; or Juhem Navarro-Rivera at 860-297-4227 or juhem.navarrorivera@trincoll.edu.


To download a copy of – The Transformation of Generation X: Shifts in Religious and Political Self-Identification, 1990-2008 please visit:


Press: Latino Influx Bolsters Catholic Church but Young and U.S.-Born Latinos Become More Religiously Diverse

[Para español oprima aquí]

HARTFORD, Conn. – The growth in the Latino population in the United States from 1990 through 2008 has helped the Catholic Church maintain its position as the nation’s largest religious tradition, a new study by researchers at Trinity College shows. Over the 18-year period, the influx of 9 million Latino Catholics accounted for most of the 11 million additions to the U.S. Catholic population and, as a result, Latinos comprised 32 percent of all U.S. Catholics in 2008 compared to 20 percent in 1990.

Even so, the Catholic Church still lost ground, albeit proportionally, among the 31 million U.S. Latino adults as their identification with Catholicism decreased from 66 percent in 1990 to 60 percent in 2008.

Similar to the general American public, Latinos have become less identified with Christianity – down from 91 percent in 1990 to 82 percent in 2008. But other religions and faiths have failed to attract Latinos. Mirroring the overall national trend, there has been a significant jump in the number and percentage of Nones, the no-religion population. Nones increased fourfold among Latinos from 900,000 or 6 percent in 1990 to nearly 4 million or 12 percent in 2008, making it the fastest growing segment. Religious traditions that tripled their number of adherents in the past 18 years were Protestant Sects, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Adventists, and the non-denominational Christian Generic tradition. During that same time, the number of Pentecostal adherents doubled but merely kept pace with Latino population growth.

These findings and more are revealed in a new report, U.S. Latino Religious Identification 1990-2008: Growth, Diversity & Transformation, which also sheds light on significant religious trends among Latinos by age, geography, education, gender, marital status, language and nativity, and political affiliation. The study, which is an outgrowth of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2008, was conducted by Juhem Navarro-Rivera, a research fellow at Trinity’s Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC), and Trinity Professors Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar.

Navarro-Rivera observed that, “Over the past 18 years, there are probably few phenomena that have changed America and American religion more than the growth of the Latino population. The adult Latino population doubled from 14.6 million to 30.8 million to become the largest U.S. minority. This immense growth of more than 16 million people has inevitably had a major impact on the religious profile and trends at both the national and state levels.”

ARIS 2008 is the third in a series of landmark studies analyzing the religious beliefs and patterns of Americans in the 48 contiguous states. The earlier studies were conducted in 1990 and 2001. The 2008 survey of 54,461 adults (in English and Spanish) included a special section on language use and nativity among Latinos.

Of the ARIS 2008 sample, 3,169 individuals identified themselves as Latino, producing a margin of error of plus or minus 1.74 percent. For analytical exactitude, the results of the 2008 survey were compared with ARIS 1990 because it allowed for a greater time span to look at generational differences and the transformation wrought by massive recent immigration.

Other highlights of the study:

  • The longer a Latino has lived in the United States, the less likely that he or she will be Catholic. Moreover, those most proficient in English are less likely to identify themselves as Catholic and more likely to self-identify as a None or affiliate with conservative Christian traditions.
  • Latino religious identification shows a gender effect, as in the general U.S. population. Two traditions at opposite poles of the religious spectrum exhibit the largest gender imbalance: the None population is heavily male (61 percent) while the Pentecostal is heavily female (58 percent).
  • Marital status reveals distinct patterns. The percentage of unmarried persons cohabitating with a partner and therefore outside of civil or religious marriage varies from 15 percent among the Nones to 11 percent among Catholics to 7 percent among non-Catholic Christians. In addition, Latinos who claim to be separated are overwhelmingly Catholic women, suggesting that Latinas are more loyal to Catholic Church prohibitions against divorce and remarriage than Latino men.
  • There are over 1.1 million married male Latino Nones but fewer than 400,000 married female Nones, suggesting that many couples and many Latino homes are not religiously homogeneous.
  • Considerable age differences exist between adherents of the various religious traditions, with the larger proportions of Nones and Protestant Sects under age 30. These are the fastest growing traditions among Latinos.
  • Class differences are also in evidence. The most educated major group is the Nones (25 percent possessing a college degree), while the least educated is the Protestant sects (8 percent who are college educated). Mainline Protestant Latinos have the highest household incomes and sectarian Protestants the lowest. Meanwhile, the non-denominational Christian Generic tradition is the most suburbanized.
  • Latino political party preference and voter registration varies by religious tradition. The study reveals that Latino Catholics and Nones are most likely to prefer the Democratic Party, while Republican Party preferences are more common among the non-Catholic Christian traditions.

Keysar suggested  that “distinct Latino religious communities and profiles are emerging in different parts of the country which reflect differences in socio-demographics and country of origin.”

  • The most striking geographical change is the shift of the Christian Generic tradition towards the South, almost tripling its Latino population in the region. In Texas, Latinos grew from 8 percent in 1990 to 20 percent in 2008 of those in the Christian Generic tradition. The percentage of Latinos among Catholics in Texas dropped from 73 percent to 66 percent over the 18-year period, while Latino Nones rose from 15 percent to 28 percent of all Texans without a religious identification.
  • Latinos went from being 51 percent of all Catholics in California in 1990 to 56 percent in 2008, while Latino Nones in that state climbed from 10 percent to 24 percent of all Californian Nones.
  • The proportion (though not the number) of Nones has dropped among Latinos in New York. However, Protestant Sects tradition, such as Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, gained ground in New York and in Florida to become one-tenth of the Latino population in these states.

Kosmin stated that “whereas Latino immigrants are contributing significantly to the stability of American Catholicism, the younger generation and the U.S.-born population are tending to polarize between those moving away from religion and those moving towards conservative Christian traditions.”

In sum, the report shows that Latinos are undergoing a transformation by becoming more religiously diverse even as they are transforming the American religious landscape.

For more information contact Barry Kosmin at 860-297-2388 or barry.kosmin@trincoll.edu; or Ariela Keysar at 201-784-5724 or ariela.keysar@trincoll.edu.

Contacto en espanol Juhem Navarro-Rivera at 860-341-1485 or juhem.navarrorivera@trincoll.edu.

To download a copy of U.S. Latino Religious Identification 1990-2008: Growth, Diversity & Transformation, please visit: http://www.americanreligionsurvey-aris.org/latinos2008.pdf