April 6, 2014

MICHAEL BARONE: Millennials’ Path of Least Resistance:

Today the Millennials, write the Pew analysts, are “relatively unattached to organized politics and religion,” and significantly more unattached than the age cohorts (Generation Xers, Baby Boomers, Silent Generation) that came before.

Politically, 50 percent of Milennials classify themselves as Independents rather than Democrats or Republicans, compared to about 36 percent of their elders.

Millennials largely voted for Barack Obama — 66 percent in 2008 and 60 percent in 2012. But only 49 percent approve of his performance now, just a bit more than among Xers and Boomers. Only 34 percent of white Millennials rate Obama’s performance positively.

Most Millennials say they believe in God, but it’s a smaller majority than among older age groups, and only 36 percent say they see themselves as “a religious person,” versus nearly 60 percent of their elders. Some 29 percent of Millennials are religiously unaffiliated. They’re evidently moving away from their parents’ religion but not moving toward one of their own.

One reason may be that people tend to join churches when they marry and have children — and Millennials, so far, aren’t doing much of either. Only 26 percent of Millennials age 18 to 32 are married, far lower than other generations were at their age (Xers 36 percent, Boomers 48 percent, Silents 65 percent).

Millennials aren’t entirely rejecting parenthood, but 47 percent of births to Millennial women are outside of marriage. Even so, about 60 percent of Millennials, like their elders, say that having more children raised by a single parent is bad for society.

Unlike Tocqueville’s Americans, and unlike the generations just before them, Millennials seem to be avoiding marriage, church and political affiliation, and to lack a sense of social trust. Only 19 percent say that generally speaking most people can be trusted, compared to 31 percent to 40 percent among older generations.

This is in line with Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam’s thesis that social trust is declining in America.

So is that just sort of happening? Or are things being pushed in that direction?