06/19/2018, 10.21
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Towards the Synod. Young people are less religious than older adults. This is why

A study by the Pew Research Center shows that in almost all countries there are differences between young people and older people regarding the importance given to religion; belonging to a group and daily prayer. The influence of economic development, of education, of danger, of age. The cases of Muslim countries, South Korea and Japan. But even with secularization, the world is becoming more religious.


Rome (AsiaNews) - Young people (up to 40 years of age) are less religious than older adults (over forty): this is the conclusion - in some respects obvious - of a long study published by the Pew Research Center a few days ago. What gives great relevance to this detailed study is the discovery that this difference between young people and adults involves all religions, even if there are some rare exceptions, and is visible in developed and developing countries. Young people's attitudes are influenced by the greater well-being, greater access to study, changing mentalities throughout the course of life. Such a report is highly useful in preparation for the October Synod, which will focus on the situation of young people in terms of faith and vocation.

The Pew Reserch Center study covers 106 countries in the world, over a research period of 10 years. In 46 countries, young people (aged 18 to 39) differ negativley to the elderly (40 and over) in saying that "religion is very important"; in 56 countries there are no differences between the two groups. Only in two countries, Georgia and Ghana, young people are more religious than the elderly.

Similar data is reported on other issues such as belonging to a religious group, daily prayer, participation in a weekly religious service. Young people identify themselves less as belonging to a religious group than the older generation in 41 countries; in 63 countries there is no significant difference. Young people pray less than their elders in 71 countries out of 105, and participate less in weekly religious services in 53 countries out of 102.

It must be said that in many countries, the percentage difference between the two groups is not very high: the global average reveals a difference of 5% for affiliation to a particular religious group; 6% for the importance given to religion; 6% for participation in a weekly service; 9% for daily prayer. But there are countries where this difference is very large. The record is in Canada, where this difference is 28 points. In Asia, the figure of South Korea should be noted: a difference of 24 points. In Japan there is a gap of 18 points. Throughout the Asia-Pacific region, the difference is minimal: only 4 points.

Importance of religion, weekly worship, daily prayer

The difference in giving importance to religion according to age affects religions differently. For example, religion is less important for young Christians in almost half of the countries studied (37 out of 78 countries); for Muslims this happens in 10 countries out of 42. Among Buddhists, young people are less religious only in one nation (the United States) in the five countries studied. Instead, there is no difference between young and older adults among Jews in the US or Israel, or among Hindus in the US or India.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the percentage of those who say religion is very important reaches very high figures: over 90%. The highest recorded include Pakistan, Indonesia and Afghanistan.  China and Japan are among the lowest with 3% and 10% respectivley.

With regards attendence of weekly religious services, the difference between young and old is very pronounced in the Middle East and North Africa, with differences of up to 11 points. In the Asia-Pacific area the difference remains in the average of 6 percentage points. Among the individual countries most affected by the difference are: Poland (29); Colombia (19); Tunisia (17); Iran (17); Jordan (16); Lebanon (15).

The difference between young and old in regard to daily prayer, generally shows that globally  (or better, in the 105 nations studied) about 44% of young people pray every day; among the elderly, the figure is 54%. In general, among Christians, the percentage of young people who pray every day is 42%; the elderly it's 51%. Among the Muslims there is a difference of 7 points: with 68% of young people and 76% for the elderly.

In general, the daily frequency of prayer is very high in Asia, especially in countries with a Muslim majority: 96% in Afghanistan; 87% in Iran; 75% in India.

The causes of the differences

What is the difference between young and old in giving value to religion? The study cites experts, according to whom the difference is almost physiological, in the sense that as people get older they become more  religious; others say that this difference is the sign that the world is becoming more and more secularized. On the other hand, it is stated in the report "But even if parts of the world are secularizing, it is not necessarily the case that the world’s population, overall, is becoming less religious. On the contrary, the most religious areas of the world are experiencing the fastest population growth because they have high fertility rates and relatively young populations. ". Indeed, in nations where population growth is high, people maintain that religion is important. Among these there are several Asian countries: Pakistan, Palestine, Iraq, Jordan. In contrast, in countries where population growth is low or negative, such as in China and Japan, only a small percentage of young people say that religion is important.

Sociologists explain these differences in religious affiliation by pointing to some causes. First of all there is economic development: where the preoccupation of daily survival diminishes, there is a tendency to give less importance to religion. Then there is the growth of access to education: in societies where this is greater, young people receive less education from parents and families and therefore are less religious. Finally there is the change that takes place during the path of life: as one gets older, has children, and the thought of death gets closer, one becomes more religious.

In fact, the Pew study shows that in countries where life expectancy is higher, there is less recourse to religion. In places where people risk premature death - due to hunger, war, or illness - the perception of vulnerability leads to religion, which allows for more hope and less anxiety.

Some scholars - such as the economist Jeanet Sinding Bentzen - point out that people living in places where earthquakes and other unforeseeable natural disasters are common (tsunamis, floods, etc.), such as in Indonesia, are more religious than people who he live in other situations. In some cases it has beenseen how among survivors of such disasters, as religious commitment increases,  the cases of mental illnesses and suicidal thoughts decrease.

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