Importance of Religion Among Youth

Publication Date:

Nov 08, 2018

Key facts about religiosity among youth

• The percentage of students reporting that religion plays an important role in their lives has decreased since the early 2000s. The widest gap is among tenth graders; in 2016, 27 percent reported religion played a very important role, compared with 35 percent in 2002.
• Females are more likely than their male peers to report that religion plays a very important role in their lives; a difference that is most pronounced among older students. In 2016, 34 percent of twelfth-grade females reported religion was very important, compared with 24 percent of twelfth-grade males.
• At all three grade levels, non-Hispanic black students are more likely than non-Hispanic white or Hispanic students to report that religion plays a very important role in their lives. For example, among twelfth graders in 2016, 49 percent of non-Hispanic black students reported that religion is very important, compared with 24 percent of non-Hispanic white and 31 percent of Hispanic students.

Trends in religiosity among youth

During the 1990s, the percentage of students reporting that religion plays a very important part in their lives generally increased among all grades surveyed. For instance, the proportion of twelfth graders who reported that religion was very important increased from 26 percent in 1990 to 33 percent in 1999. From 2000 to 2010, however, the share of students who reported such a role for religion decreased substantially, from 37 to 29 percent among eighth graders, from 32 to 25 percent among tenth graders, and from 32 to 27 percent among twelfth graders. From 2010 to 2016, the proportion who reported that religion played an important role increased slightly among all three grade groups. In 2016, the proportions of eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders reporting religion played a very important role were 32, 27, and 30 percent, respectively (Appendix 1).

Differences by gender

A higher proportion of female students than male students report that religion is very important in their lives. In 2016, the difference was 2 percentage points among eighth graders, 3 percentage points among tenth graders, and 10 percentage points among twelfth graders (Appendix 1).

Differences by race/Hispanic origin1

At all three grade levels, non-Hispanic black students are more likely than non-Hispanic white or Hispanic students to report that religion plays a very important role in their lives. In 2016, 49 percent of non-Hispanic black twelfth graders reported that religion is very important, nearly twice the proportion reported by their non-Hispanic white peers (24 percent), and more than one-and-a-half times the proportion reported by Hispanic twelfth graders (31 percent). Differences between non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white or Hispanic students in tenth and eighth grades follow a similar pattern. About 43 percent of non-Hispanic black tenth graders reported that religion plays a very important role in their lives, compared with 23 and 22 percent of non-Hispanic white and Hispanic tenth graders, respectively. Around 46 percent of non-Hispanic black eighth graders reported that religion plays a very important role, compared with 31 and 26 percent of non-Hispanic white and Hispanic eighth graders, respectively. Students in Western states were not asked about their religiosity. Since a large proportion of U.S. Hispanics live in Western states, caution should be used when interpreting results for these students.

Differences by college plans

Students who plan to complete four years of college are more likely than students who do not have such plans to report that religion plays a very important role in their lives. For example, in 2016, 33 percent of eighth graders who had plans to complete four years of college reported that religion was important, compared with 18 percent of those who did not have such plans. There was a similar pattern among tenth graders. No difference was observed among twelfth graders in 2016, but historically those planning to complete four years of college have reported a higher level of religiosity (Appendix 1).

Differences by parental education

Eighth and tenth grade students whose parents have a bachelor’s degree or higher are more likely than students whose parents have less education to report that religion is very important to them. For instance, in 2016, 23 percent of tenth graders whose parents had no more than a high school diploma reported that religion was very important, compared with 29 percent with a parent who had completed college or attended graduate school (Appendix 1).

Data and appendices

Data source

Child Trends’ original analysis of data from Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of American Youth, 1976 to 2016.

Raw data source

Monitoring the Future: http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/

Appendices

Appendix 1. Percentage of Eighth, Tenth, and Twelfth Graders Who Report that Religion Plays a Very Important Role in their Lives: Selected Years, 1976-2016

Background

Definition

Students were asked, “How important is religion in your life?” in the Monitoring the Future survey. This indicator reflects those who responded, “very important.” After 2006, this question was not asked of students in Western states, which include Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, and California.

Citation

Child Trends. (2018). Importance of Religion Among Youth. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/religiosity-among-youth. 

Endnotes

1. Estimates for white and black youth exclude Hispanic youth and youth of two or more races. Hispanic youth include persons identifying as Mexican American or Chicano, Cuban American, Puerto Rican, or other Hispanic or Latino and no other racial/ethnic group.