A new study from YouGov indicates that those in their late teens and early twenties (Generation Z) are more likely to believe in God than millennials in their late twenties and thirties. The study pointed to the ease at which young people can access information about faith online as a key reason for shifting the trend away from younger people being seen as less religious.
Other factors include less "stigma" about religious beliefs amongst Gen Z peer groups, leading to more open discussions about faith. Experts also believe that the pandemic may have caused many young people to think more seriously about what they believe, leading to an increase in religious affiliation.
The number of those in the 16 to 24-year-old age group who class themselves as religious rose to 23 per cent in the latest study. When the question was asked of 18 to 24-year-olds in January, the figure was at 21 per cent. For 40 to 59-year-olds and 25 to 39-year-olds, it fell to 26 per cent and 19 per cent respectively.
Dr Lois Lee, a fellow of the University of Kent’s department of religious studies, told the Times that it was "highly likely the pandemic has impacted on people’s existential beliefs and practices" but that she was "not yet convinced it will have made any group more or less religious in the longer term".
She noted that times of crisis can be “a time of exploration” in terms of personal belief systems. “Possibly this year’s data indicate that young people are going through that kind of exploratory period more than others," she said.
Stephen Bullivant, a professor of the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, noted that the YouGov study's figures "buck the long-term expectation” that age groups become “progressively less religious” as they get younger.
The survey, which was conducted online at the end of November, had a sample size of 2,169 people and included four questions: whether they believed in God, if they did not believe in God but did believe in some kind of higher spiritual power, if they believed in neither, or if they did not know.