Religious Trends Among American High School
With today’s cultural landscape being what is is, it is easy to say that things are changing… and they are changing fast. These changes include parts of culture including music, Hollywood/ the movie industry, politics, world relations, and hot- button topics such as gun control, same-sex marriage,and the rights of the unborn. One major topic that can be included with these things is religion. It has existed since the beginning of civilization and will most likely never cease to exist. Religion is extremely ingrained in society, however this does not make it immune to change. Some of the best things in history have come about due to change, and religiosity is subject to shifting and growing with the cultural trends of America.
The religiosity of America has steadily been morphing from an expected thing for Americans to a lifestyle of the minority over the past twenty plus years. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians has dropped from seventy-eight percent to seventy percent between 2007 and 2014. This is more than one percent per year. Likewise, the percentage of adults who are religiously unaffiliated has risen from sixteen percent to twenty-two percent over the same time period. Clearly, people are choosing more and more to not include religion as part of their lifestyle.
The lifestyle choices of adults have a direct correlation to the youth of America, as expected. Lifeway Research conducted a study on youth in the church and found that on average, seventy percent of young adults who attend church for at least one year in high school drop out, and about two- thirds of them return in adulthood. Eighty percent of youth who dropped out did not plan to do so during high school, showing an unexpected shift for many of them. The dropout rate varied slightly for each age group, with 17-18 year- olds leading at fourteen percents, followed by 18-19 year- olds at thirteen percent and 16-17 year olds at ten percent.
A study conducted by the Gallp Poll found that teens are more religious during their early teenage years and that religiosity declines as adulthood nears. In the study, when 13-15 year-olds were asked “How important are your religious beliefs?”, sixty-three percent said “very important”. Only fifty-two percent of 16-17 year- olds answered “very important”, an eleven percent decrease from their younger counterparts.
Fifty-four percent of 13-15 year -olds reported that they have attended church in the past seven days, compared to fifty-one percent of 16-17 year- olds. Shockingly, this figure drops to a measly thirty-two percent among 18-19 year-olds. Sixty- nine percent of 13-15 year -olds reported belonging to some sort of church body, compared to fifty-nine percent of 16-17 year-olds and sixty percent of 18-29 year- olds.
These statistics show a very important trend: the older teens get, the more likely they are to abandon their religion or involve it less in their life. The reasons they choose to leave can vary but there are four main reasons discovered by Tom Bisset, a researcher who asked young people who had left the church why they did so. The four main reasons were: 1) they had troubling, unanswered questions about their faith, 2) their faith was not “working” for them, 3) they allowed other things to take priority, and 4) they never personally owned their faith.
These statistics are surprising.
short survey given to each grade level advisory the results match up perfectly with the data from the national surveys.
The MHS survey found that eighty percent of freshman identified personally with a religion. This number dropped to fifty percent of sophomores, thirty percent of juniors, and less than ten percent of seniors. This shows a drastic decline in religious affiliation with each additional year in age.
Another drastic trend discovered is that the older the student is, the more likely they are to have negative feelings attached to religious people. Ninety percent of freshman said that they thought religious people are kind to people who do not have their beliefs. By the time the student is in their senior year, this figure drops to a measly fourty-three.
When religious students in the survey were asked how their religion impacts their life, forty percent said that it is a big part of their identity and actions. Twenty percent said they had never known anything else. Thirty-five percent said that it didn’t impact their life very much at all. The remaining five percent said that they were identifying with their religion simply for comfort about the afterlife. Only sixty-four percent of religious students said that they saw themselves sticking to their religion after high school.
When asked if they felt pressured to adhere to a certain religion by their parents, an astounding sixty-seven percent answered yes. This reflects the fact that parents have a huge impact in the choices and lifestyles that their teenagers eventually choose. This may also explain why religiosity decreases exponentially with age. Young people get older and therefore make more independent decisions.
When non-religious people were asked if they were open to investigating a religion, thirty-nine percent said yes. The remaining sixty-one percent answered that they were confident in their lack of beliefs and
did not see themselves looking further into a religion. The younger the student was, the more likely they were to say that they were open to investigating. Eighty-five percent of the students who answered that they were open to it were underclassmen.
When asked why they did not identify with a religion, the answers varied. One anonymous student answered, “I grew up in a household that did focus around any religion so I did not follow into any religion.” Another explained, “I don’t believe in a religion because I have not seen enough proof to prove it”.
Many of the non-religious students seemed open minded, answering with statements such as “I don’t identify with a religion but I do believe in a god. I don’t identify as one because I am a very open person.” Other students seemed very passionate about their decision to remain atheist, agnostic, or other.
One student explained more in depth, saying ,“I don’t identify with a religion because I was raised with parents who went to church and thought there was no reason for me to do all of that. We don’t even know if there is a real god have you ever met him? Yes, something did create this world but it wasn’t god. God is just a figure that someone made up to make people worship every weekend.” This quote is reflective of the data which shows that once again, parents are a huge influence on how teens think.
Lastly, the survey discovered that sophomore year to junior year is the most critical for students to choose their life- path in regards to religion. We see the percentage of religious affiliation decrease from a balanced fifty percent in sophomore year to a much lower thirty percent in junior year. Clearly, something critical happens in the minds of year- olds that causes them to know what they want, and to make a choice that will affect their morals and convictions, or lack thereof, for the rest of their life.
The teenage years are critical for students to discover who they are, what they want, and what they believe. The statistics, whether from a national survey or from a high school in Mishawaka, reflect the journey that each teenager takes. It is the proof of the young person taking the brush from the hands of their parents and authority figures, and painting a portrait of the life they truly envision for themselves: a work of art that is beautifully different for each and every person.