Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Babyboomers and Millennials: The Generational and Religious Divide

Last week, I wrote about the decline of organized religion in the U.S.. In addition last week's article looked at how Babyboomers, Millennials, and Gen Z, have influenced this decline which began in the 1960's. This week, we'll get a more specific, starting with the Babyboomers and continuing with the Millennials.

Babyboomers (1946 - 1964) were the product of a society which experienced, on the one hand, one of the most prosperous economies in the country's history, and on the other hand, perhaps America's most violable period.  It was a traditional childhood and youth in one sense but would ultimately led to violent rejection of traditional values, anti-war protests, clashes over race relations and civil rights, which, between 1955 and 1975 took the nation from one which trusted the government to one which had utter contempt for the government.

It was during the 1960's and early 1970's that many Boomers turned their back on organized religion, although there was a brief and intense resurgence as noted by the popularity of musicals like "Godspell" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" which attempted to find a new relevance and interpretation in religion. At the same time, "Fiddler on the Roof" attempted to revive Judaism's historic belief in its traditions and values while plays, like "Hair" and  "Oh! Calcutta!" explored society's changing morality, especially its sexual morals.

The same, or similar expression of disconnect found expression in music, art, and even TV shows like "All in the Family", "The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour", and Rowan and Martin's "Laugh In".  Even network comedies like "Get Smart", "Love American Style", and others carried a anti-establishment undertone. It's not surprising then to expect that religion too would be affected.

Rock groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, among others  had a profound effect on that generation's view of organized religion (in a sense, their "message" came to replace that of the pulpit's).  Groups like these introduced society to the Eastern philosophies, mysticism, yoga, acupuncture, mantras, meditation, holistic and herbal medicine, and Swami whose names we couldn't pronounce.

In addition, first cohort Boomers (1946 - 1954), were largely Left leaning politically. They promoted an idealistic vision of socialism, and began viewing the Cold War as nothing more than propaganda war by Wall Street over who controlled what natural resources and allowed military bases. 

By the late 60's, Boomers started moving to communes as a socialistic experiment and to "get back to nature". They joined small collectives, growing their own food, sharing chores, making their own clothes. Those who, for whatever reason, weren't able to join in, however, started forming neighborhood associations and block watches to take care of their piece of the New American Dream

They also started petition drives and formed boycotts against "unfriendly" or "anti-nature" corporations which wanted to pave over the "bunny fields". From thus the concept of the "NIMBY"---Not In My Backyard was born and remains very much alive today. It was also the birth of consumer advocacy,citizen lobbyists, grassroots environmentalism, and community activism.

The Boomers involvement with protecting the environment, especially air and water, ultimately resulted in the passage of the Clean Air and Water Act and creation of the EPA (1970) just as they had done earlier with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, which was later expanded in Title VII to include other categories such as gender and age discrimination.

Meanwhile, the second cohort of Babyboomers (1955 - 1964), which embraced many of the same ideals as their older siblings, tended to be less optimistic. They had been more deeply affected by the outcome of the Vietnam War (in part, due to the nightly "body count" on the evening news) and America's failure to secure victory after a nearly 20 year war and the loss of almost 60,000  (mostly young) men and women amid a mountain of lies by the military, Congress, and the Presidency which just seem to grow.

Lies, such as Watergate, caused  Boomers, along with much of America, not just lost its faith in the government and it's institutions, but even its religion was affected as we headed into the 1980's thanks to the rise of the "Televangelist" and the political activism of the "Moral Majority". Sadly, we've never recovered and as I wrote last week, the trend has turned into a death spiral. 

Babyboomers, who rejected materialism in the 1960's went on to be the wealthiest generation up to date, giving us the "Go Go 80's", shopping malls, timeshares, and modern day "greed is good" robber barons like Carl Icahn, T. Boone Pickens, and Ivan Boesky.  Boomers have been behind trends such as healthy eating and fitness craze, disco and mullets (my apologies), McMansions, wine clubs, along with countless others. 

As they age, many of the things Boomers have clung on to will begin to fade (and not just vinyl records or eight tracks). We're talking about traditional brick and mortar businesses (even banks, schools, especially universities are at risk), cable only TV, home ownership, big cars, professional football and, perhaps, boxing (due to head injuries) along with baseball (which is cited by Millennials as "too slow"), and  organized religion just to name a few.

A study by the University of California at Santa Barbara's sociology department indicated that around 42% of Boomers dropped out of organized religion all together, yet 33% never dropped out. Those individuals tended to be conservative, fundamentalist, and were Reagan supporters. However, 25% are slowly returning. Of those, the majority are leaning to liberal and less traditional churches or religious institutions. Their biggest hang-ups? The need for less formality, pro-choice, and LGBT acceptance.

Today, about 88% of Babyboomers describe themselves as "believing in God" or being "pretty sure" God exists (God or some sort of "higher power"). 83% said that religion still had a positive impact on their life. The survey didn't define "religion" as being formal or the same as a less structured "faith system".

When it came to attending some sort of religious service during the year, 71% said they did (but only 38% was weekly). However, when asked if they attended some other religious program (such as bible study or prayer group), 57% said no. When asked if they prayed, 77% said they did; 61% daily and 16% weekly. When asked if they meditated, 56% said they did. Of that, 45% was weekly, while 42% didn't ("prayer" and "meditation" were viewed as being separate from each other)

The same poll asked Babyboomers if they felt a sense of inner peace or spiritual well being. Only 14% said no. 84% did, at least some of the time.  44% also said they didn't read religious scripture of any sort. Just 38% did so weekly while 17% did so occasionally. Of those who did, 35% thought it was literal word of God. 29% said it could be...maybe...or shouldn't take literally. 29% said it wasn't the literal word.

When asked about Heaven and Hell,  74% thought that Heaven existed in some form. 26% didn't think it existed or weren't convinced. As for Hell, 59% believed it existed. 41% didn't think there was a Hell or wasn't sure.  So, how does this compare to the Millennials?

Millennials (1980 - 1996) are, for the most part, the grandchildren of the Babyboomers. They seem to have inherited much of their grandparent's distrust of the government, institutions, and organized religion. However, Millennials are also more dismissive of Boomers (the common Millennial phrase "Ok Boomer" is usually intended to be a polite dismissal of something a Boomer has said or done). 

Many believe that the current social and financial hardships they face as a generation are the direct result of Babyboomers, which they view as greedy and inconsiderate (typical of the "Me Generation). Millennials are the first generation whose quality of life didn't meet or exceed their parents.

Boomers  benefited from their parent's level "living wage" jobs, lifelong employment, employer provided healthcare and retirement (which was often the result of unionization). While Boomers attended college at higher numbers than any previous generation, their debt level was relatively low, especially compared to Millennials, due to many programs which have since been discontinued, including the original GI Bill.

 Millennials are, as we all know, more diverse than Boomers, especially along race, sexual orientation, and ethnic lines, not just as a group, but among their personal relationships. As a group, they tend to have far fewer friends than their grandparents at the same age. They're also more likely to have more health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, Crohn's, and depression. They are also more likely to have an addiction problems. Millennials are more likely to marry later in life and have fewer children whereas Boomers had more children. Boomers also tend to divorce more often, even as they age.

When it comes to the importance of religion, just 38% of Millennials said it's very important. 29% said it was only "somewhat" important while 33% wasn't impressed with it. 28% attend religious services regularly. 38% did so just a few times a year and 34% said they never do.

Asked about prayer, 36% said no thank you. 39% said they prayed daily while 35% did so occasionally. By contrast, 42% meditated (though only 27% did regularly) while 58% didn't.  When asked if they participated in some sort of religious activity, a whopping 62% said no. Only 18% did on a weekly basis. The remaining 20% was a "hit or miss". 

When asked if they read religious scripture, 53% said no. Only 25% did so weekly. When it came to believing what they read, it didn't fare much better. 20% thought it was the literal word of God while the remaining 80% weren't so sure, which included 44% who said it wasn't. Heaven and Hell? 68% believe in a Heaven; 32% not so much. As for Hell, 56% said yes but the rest didn't think so.

The downward trend of religion seems to have begun in the 1960's, although the seeds were certainly planted much earlier; likely the outgrowth of the private hell brought home by the veterans of WWII and Korea. Babyboomers were said to have been the most spoiled group in recent history; totally devoted to materialism in their childhood yet by their 20's embracing a idealistic form of socialism, and again returning to "conspicuous consumption" and corporate greed by their 30's. Now, once more, returning to the nomadic spiritualism of their youth as they enter their senior years.  

Perhaps it was an attempt by their elders to buy them things they themselves couldn't afford during the Great Depression or during the war years. A vain attempt to buy happiness which left a spiritual void in their children. Maybe the same could be said of the Millennials. They too were spoilt by their parents and grandparents, only to be left feeling hollow inside.  

Millennials have a sense of anger at what they see as misused consumption by their elders, leaving them in no mood to be lectured by a generation which seemed to have had it all and blew it. Now they find themselves adrift financially, politically, and spiritually.  However, with no societal anchor to be found with their parents, grandparents, or great grandparents, the deciding fate of organized religion and perhaps society itself lays with the Gen Z, the new kids on the generational block.


Religious composition of Baby Boomers

Generational cohort by religious group

Why Millennials distaste for Babyboomers is justified

Religious composition of younger Millennials



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