College freshmen less religious than ever — just like their parents

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Over a quarter of college freshmen say that they have no religion. This makes them the least religious cohort in four decades of the surveys conducted by UCLA.

Researchers at the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA survey college freshmen each year on a range of topics, including religion. The 2014 survey results were released last month (read more here). They show that college freshmen in 2014 had the highest percentage of students identifying with no religion and the lowest percentage who saw themselves as spiritual.

The survey also asks freshmen the religion of their parents. Each year, college freshmen report being less religious than their parents. As go the parents, so goes the child. Parents, too, have increasingly left religion.

Until about a decade ago, however, freshmen tended to be just slightly less religious than their fathers. The gap between children and their fathers was in the single digits. Today, that gap has widened. Freshmen are much more likely to see themselves as one of the so-called “nones” than their parents are. College freshmen are twice as likely to identify with no religion than are their mothers.

A word of caution in reading too much into these results. This isn’t necessarily a harbinger of doom (for religious people) or delight (for secular folks). Only four-in-ten young adults enter college. The CIRP is a fantastic study of these students, but it is limited to those in four-year programs; community colleges are not part of the study. The rise in freshmen who are not religious is just part of the story for how religion is changing in America.

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  • Karla

    This is no surprise cause bad mouthing religion has backfired. Many are now
    spiritual instead of Biblical. It doesn’t matter how “spiritual” people are if they
    are not Biblical they are still lost/headed for hell. It is true about the parents
    cause I encounter adults all the time claiming to be Christian yet they still get
    drunk,be mean/dont bridle the tongue,sleep around/have premarital sex,covet,
    gamble,gossip/still live no different from a non- Christian. We all must Repent!

  • Great news.

    I think people are waking up to the notion that religion is a blunder.

    There is no evidence that any particular religion is true, and no good reason to pick one in any case. People can be perfectly happy and healthy without any gods.

    American Churches, Synagogues and Mosques will soon by left empty.
    What practical use can be made of these ancient houses of superstitions?

  • “We all must Repent!”

    For being born? What sense does that make?

  • John


  • Michael Glass

    It is interesting to see how consistent the pattern is: the children are more secular than the fathers, who are more secular than the mothers. It is also consistent across cultures, for the same thing has been happening in other Western societies, too.

    However, it is too soon to become either elated or alarmed about these changes. It is obvious that a clear majority of people are still religious. Also, the change is quite gradual, so even if this trend continued for another 50 years, a substantial proportion of the American public would still be religious.

    Nor is it anything new to have a powerful freethinking movement. Over a hundred years ago Colonel Ingersoll and Mark Twain spoke out against religion. If it is dying, religion is taking a long time to do so.

  • @Michael Glass,

    “even if this trend continued for another 50 years, a substantial proportion of the American public would still be religious.”

    If the trend continues to accelerate at this rate
    the non-religious will finally be dominant for the first time in American history.

    We are only 10 years from that moment.
    The internet has killed religion. Even the churchgoers of today feel it coming.

  • Louise hates God and Country

    My daddy was half jewish and half methodist.
    My mother was non-religious, but was raised episcopalian.
    I am not religious one bit and I am not spiritual. If anything I suppose I am a vegan and a Wiccan, for I celebrate my woman-ness and the earth.
    I believe in no god and my belief in government of any type has run dry. I just want to be left alone and I think we should stop believing in what I call governments controlled by the ethno-religious meat-eating pre-modern-breeders. May the juices that naturally flow through our bodies enlighten us.

  • Karla

    Louise- You are loved by Christ and God is real so read Romans 1:18-32
    which says God made it known He is real through the miracle of creation.
    Psalm 22:16-18/Isaiah 53:3-7 are both specific prophecy about God/Jesus.

  • Steven

    Why do you keep claiming censorship, Stephen? You are clearly NOT being “censored.”

  • gary47290

    And yet mass numbers of people seem to be flocking to new age religions – Wicca, Buddhism, DeepakChopra, etc.

    The issue is not that Christianity is outmoded, but that Christians have failed to spread the message of a loving Go. Far too many focus on Hellfire and Damnation, losing site of salvation.

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  • Jeffrey

    Louise, I was half Jewish and half methodist at one point in my life. But then i realized, I loved lamb. so i converted and began to open my pastry shop in the upper east side. Business is booming and it is all because of God. He gave me the ability to make a type of “super” danish. Come by and we can have a cup of joe and enjoy a nice pastry together.

    With Love,

  • Jeffrey

    You have a lot of passion Karla. Keep at it. #RollTide #turnup #SB2k16