Religion & Beliefs

Doom, Gloom, and the Pew Research Center

A quick glance at the newest studies coming from the Pew Research Center seem to be confirming what all of our Jewish grandmothers have bemoaned for longer than we can remember: the Millennial generation is perpetuating the death of the … Read More

By / February 19, 2010

A quick glance at the newest studies coming from the Pew Research Center seem to be confirming what all of our Jewish grandmothers have bemoaned for longer than we can remember: the Millennial generation is perpetuating the death of the Jewish people.

Okay, so that’s not what the studies say. It’s a really loose interpretation. Here are the facts:

The Millennial Generation (18-29) overwhelmingly supports interracial dating and marriage. In fact, 85 percent of all groups asked say they would be fine with a family member’s marriage to somebody of another ethnic group. Meanwhile, among the parents of the Millennials, the 50-64 age bracket, that number drops to 55 percent. And forget about our grandparents–they’re at 38 percent. Granted, this study refers to ethnicity and race, not religion, but I think it’s fair to say that it speaks to a general trend of acceptance within the young adult generation. Read the rest of the study, published last week, here.

This week, there’s even more devastating news for Bubbe. Apparently, American Millennials are considerably less active in religious institutions than our older counterparts. Currently, 26 percent of those 18-29 claim they do not affiliate with any religion (or consider themselves "atheist" or "agnostic"), up from 20 percent of those 30-45. So we’re all a bunch of heathens, right?

Actually, no. Just because more than half of us approve of the Supreme Court ban on prayer in public schools doesn’t mean we’re less spiritual or against prayer. Apparently, nearly half of all Millennials still claim to pray on a daily basis, and claim a roughly consistent rate of absolute belief in God as did previous generations–64 percent. Also, two percent of the total population of those 18-29 identify religiously as Jewish, (Yes, I know, this doesn’t sound like a lot. Stay with me.) whereas only 1 percent of those 30-49 claim to be Jews. So hey, look at us, young Jews are still coming out on top!

Thirty-seven percent of religiously-affiliated Millennials consider themselves strong members of their religious groups, which is consistent with Generation X, the 30-45 crowd. Though the report doesn’t specify how many of these "strong members" identify as Jewish, I would venture to say institutions like Hillel, the Jewish Federation Young Leadership, and other national and regional organizations are still churning out the next Jewish leaders, not to mention rabbinical and cantorial schools across the country. Though many of them are looking for new ways to get young Jews involved, and young Jews are engaging in the Jewish dialogue differently than they did in the past, strong members of the Jewish community in its various forms have yet to go extinct.

Not surprisingly, nearly three-quarters of Milennials believe that there is more than one true way to interpret their own religion. This might even be more predominant in the Jewish world. Think Bu-Jews. Um, or maybe Jews for Jesus, but we’re pretty sure they don’t actually count. But they think they do, and that’s all that really matters, right? Even within Jews for Judaism, there are obviously different accepted traditions, not limited to just the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist movements. Independent minyans are popping up places, like Brooklyn’s Altshul, and there are places like Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, the traditionally LGBT synagogue of New York City. (Millennials also tend, across the board, to be more accepting of homosexuality, as well as abortion, evolution and pornography. They also support bigger government, because clearly that is related to religious beliefs.)

Oddly, the only specific reported beliefs that are stronger in the 18-29 crowd than in 30+ is that of life after death and, more notably, in Hell. Sixty-two percent of Millennials believe in Hell; only 59 percent of Generation Xers share that belief.

So Bubbe might be kvetching that us crazy young kids are okay with intermarriage and we don’t go to shul every Friday night and Saturday morning, but you can tell her to rest assured, because the Nonnas and Lolas and Yayas and Abuelas are facing the same issues. Don’t worry, just because we’re eating cheeseburgers and dating Catholics doesn’t mean Judaism is dying. We’re just taking it upon ourselves as a generation to redefine our religious and cultural affiliations, and deciding what matters most for Millennials.

For more analysis the study, click here, or download the full report here