Saturday, March 3, 2007

Strength in numbers?

JC and I had a discussion yesterday about the people at our office. In his department, when asked if they could work on the weekend to get an important job done, out of six people, five said that they could work on Saturday, but had church for several hours on Sunday. My thesis was that our company, possibly because of its Mennonite roots, possibly because it's just odd, has more religious young people (20-30 year olds) than is normal. JC feels that, actually, our generation is more religious than that before or after it. Of course, he also makes the claim that generations should be considered in brackets of only a few years, instead of the brackets on typical polls, which tend to range from seven to twenty years. While I agree that the poll sampling is overly broad, I disagree that our "generation," even as he defines it (which, I think, means that he thinks of himself and his younger sisters as being in separate generations) is any more religious than any other. My assertion was that we tend to hang out with people who are (a) smart, (b) kind, and (c) strong in a faith tradition. Why? Because those people are friendly and dependable. I think this skews our sampling.

I've been trying to do some research on it, and according to the best data I can come up with, church attendance in the US is somewhere around 26% (although it's often reported as 40%, most statisticians have compared these numbers with church attendance records and concluded that a lot of people are lying about going to church).

The Pew Research Center's report on "Generation Next" (who comes up with these names?) reports that 1 in 5 of people ages 18-25 report as agnostic or atheist. Of people ages 26 and older, only 11% do. The interesting attendant piece of data they gave here was that, in the late 1980s, 11% of 18-25 year olds were non-religious, compared to 8% of those 26 and older. That kind of data is interesting to me, because it compares people in the same stage in their lives. The result? To my eye, it says that we're getting less religious. However, as JC points out, 18-22 is very very different from 23-27, in terms of what's going on in your life. Church might not be important to you when you're in college, but when you get married, start having kids, and discover crises bigger than, uhm, someone hacking your MySpace, maybe people do turn to religion. I don't know. Thoughts? Data? Anything?

I actually wrote to the Pew Research Center to see if I could get raw data for that survey.