Religiosity in Young People Strongly Associated with Higher Education

Market Research Foundation asked Generation Z  – young people between the ages of thirteen and twenty-three  – about their religious participation and compared responses to policy preferences and demographic information. Our research indicates young people who attend regular religious services tend to hold moderately more conservative views than their non-religious peers on issues like illegal immigration, foreign policy, and defense spending. However, the most notable takeaways from our analysis are the positive correlation between higher education and religiosity, and the strength of America First sentiment independent of religion.

Overall, 64% of Americans ages thirteen to twenty-three indicate they attend religious services at some point during the year, while 36% say they never attend religious services. Those who do attend religious services are significantly more likely to attend often than they are to attend occasionally. Nineteen percent of young people attend religious services at least weekly, while 9% attend a few times a month and 7% attend once a month. Below is a chart showing how often young Americans attend religious services.

Among Black young people, a full 70% attend religious services sometimes and 22% attend religious services at least once a week, and among Hispanic young people 67% attend religious services sometimes and 19% attend at least once a week. Sixty-three percent of White young people attend religious services sometimes, and 19% attend at least once a week.

College Graduates and Upper Income Young People Are More Likely to Attend Church Regularly

Education and religion are often portrayed at odds in political analysis. White blue collar adults without a college degree and evangelicals played a central role in President Trump’s election, suggesting increasing religious and educational divides by party identity. However, among Generation Z, higher educational attainment and higher enthusiasm for education are positively correlated to both regular participation in religious services, and to conservativism. Young Republicans are more likely to attend religious services regularly than young Democrats and Independents, and young highly-religious people are more likely to be higher educated and to come from middle and high income households.

A full 31% of postgraduates and 27% of college graduates attend religious services at least once a week, compared to 16% of those with some college and 19% of those with a high school education or less. Below is a chart showing religious service attendance by education level.

We also asked young people who were not yet enrolled in higher education to rank their desire to attend college, and 21% of those with a ‘high’ desire to attend college also attend church, versus 16% of those with a ‘medium’ desire, and 12% of those with a ‘low’ desire. Young people from families with a household income above $50,000 and below $200,000 annually were also more likely to attend religious services regularly than those from lower-income and high-income households.

By party identity, a full 79% of young Republicans and 65% of young Independents attend church at least sometimes, versus 58% of Democrats. Of those who voted in 2016, Trump voters were over twice as likely as Clinton voters to attend church at least once a week. Thirty-four percent of Trump voters attend church at least once a week, versus 15% of Clinton voters and 23% of Independent voters.

Religious Participation Increases America First Sentiment, Slightly

Support for America First policies like reducing illegal immigration and reducing foreign aid are strongly supported by Generation Z as a whole, but these views are slightly more common in church-attendees than non-attendees.

We asked young people to indicate their level of agreement or disagreement with an “America First” agenda where the primary goal of any law or policy is to focus on the needs of Americans, even if they are not in line with the interests of foreign nations and allies. Overall, 73% of young people support this policy, whether they attend religious services or not. However, 77% of those who attend church at least sometimes support this policy, versus 72% who attend monthly, and 69% who never attend.

Young people who attend church at least once a week are also slightly more likely to agree that whether or not illegal immigrants cause problems in the U.S., they need to follow the rules or leave. Fifty-eight percent of young people overall agree with this proposal, and that share increases to 66% among church attendees. That said, a full 53% of young people who never attend church also agree with this statement.

Policy Divide Emerges Between Religious and Non-Religious Young People on Foreign Policy and Defense

Slight differences in ideology between religious young people and non-religious young people emerge in the realm of foreign policy and military spending. We asked young people to indicate their agreement with the following statement, “America has a duty to help other nations keep peace and fight off aggressors”, and while 62% of Generation Zers support this statement, that share rises to 65% among those who attend church sometimes, and drops to 58% among those who do not attend church at all.

We also asked young people to indicate their level of agreement for two different statements on defense spending:

Statement 1: “We should drastically reduce funding for the Department of Defense.  We do not need to be spending money and resources on wars, a strong foreign presence and nation building. The Department of Defense could achieve its goal, protecting America from foreign threats with a fraction of what it currently spends.”

Statement 2: “The Department of Defense needs its entire budget. Defending our nation is about more than domestic bases and guarding the physical border. Our presence, involvement and strength abroad contribute to the defense of our country.”

Overall just 38% of Generation Zers support the first statement’s call for a cut to defense spending, while 40% support the second statement’s call to maintain defense spending. Twenty-two percent support neither statement. Among those who attend religious services monthly, support for the second statement maintaining defense spending rises to 47%. Among those who never attend church, support for the second statement drops to 35%. Below is the share of young people who prefer the first statement maintaining defense spending by church attendance.

On the flip side, just 33% of those who attend church monthly support the first statement’s call to reduce defense spending, while 44% of those who never attend church support the first statement’s call to reduce defense spending.

Our analysis of Generation Z’s religious participation suggests religiosity is closely correlated to demographic traits like education, income, race, and even political party, but does not significantly influence policy views with the exception of defense. This recent research disputes the popular portrayal of conservativism as an ideology driven by low-educated groups. America First views are supported broadly by young Americans regardless of religion, and religion is strongly correlated to education in the youngest generation.