I recently read a very interesting article from W. Bradford Wilcox at the University of Virginia from his “”Houses of Worship” column of The Wall Street Journal.
In “God Will Provide – Unless the Government Gets There First,” Wilcox offers reflections on the recent release of the American Religious Identification Survey [ARIS] which indicated that the number of secular Americans has increased from 2% in 1962 and 8% in 1990 to fully 15% in 2008.
His argument, put simply, is that the expansion of the government sector to offer cradle-to-grave social services contributes to the secularization of the society. He specifically states that young adults getting married later in life is also a contributing factor in the push towards a more secular society.
Then he offers this crucial insight:
The secular tide appears to be running strongest among young Americans. Religious attendance among those 21 to 45 years old is at its lowest level in decades, according to Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow. Only 25% of young adults now attend services regularly, compared with about one-third in the early 1970s.
The most powerful force driving religious participation down is the nation’s recent retreat from marriage, Mr. Wuthnow notes. Nothing brings women and especially men into the pews like marriage and parenthood, as they seek out the religious, moral and social support provided by a congregation upon starting a family of their own. But because growing numbers of young adults are now postponing or avoiding marriage and childbearing, they are also much less likely to end up in church on any given Sunday. Mr. Wuthnow estimates that America’s houses of worship would have about six million more regularly attending young adults if today’s young men and women started families at the rate they did three decades ago.
Citing the research of Robert Wuthnow, Wilcox argued that the delay of marriage is a primary driver of secularization. This goes hand in hand with the fact that the extension of adolescence comes with vast and often unnoticed effects. Adulthood is meant for adult responsibilities, and for the vast majority of young people that will mean marriage and parenthood. The extension of adolescence into the twenties (maybe now even the thirties) is highly correlated with the rise of secularism and with lower rates of church attendance.
I think the two trends he refers to are obvious. Society is becoming more secular and less and less young adults are attending church. Do you agree with the reasons presented by this researcher?
The article made me wonder, is the stronger social net in Canadian society partly to explain for the more secular state of our society compared to our American neighbours?
Let me know your thoughts. Click on comments below and let me know your views on this.
Good thoughts Melanie. It is true that as people are getting married older it surely equates to people living together. As this stands in opposition to the teachings of the Christian Church, it would certainly contribute to a decline in attendance among those who are choosing those values.
Hmm, there’s a lot to think about there. I think it is true that parenthood makes people think more about spiritual things. Exploring spiritual things and attending church may seem like a good thing for their kids, while they might not pursue it otherwise. However, marriage leading to church attendance … that doesn’t ring as true to me. I think it is true that people are holding off getting married longer. I think that’s related to society becoming more secular, in that people are walking away from values that the Christian church holds to. The church believes in lifelong commitment in marriage, as opposed to living together. As society walks away from the church, it feels free to not hold to the moral values that the church believes in.