FRIDAY, May 29, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Millennials -- those born in the 1980s and 1990s -- are the least religious generation of Americans in the last six decades, a new study says.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from 11.2 million participants in four national surveys of U.S. teens, aged 13 to 18, conducted between 1966 and 2014.
The investigators found that millennials are less likely to say religion is important to them, less approving of religious organizations, less spiritual and spend less time praying or meditating.
"Millennial adolescents are less religious than Boomers and GenX'ers were at the same age," study leader Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, said in a university news release.
"We also looked at younger ages than the previous studies. More of today's adolescents are abandoning religion before they reach adulthood, with an increasing number not raised with religion at all," Twenge said.
Compared to the late 1970s, twice as many current 12th graders and college students never go to religious services. In addition, 75 percent more high school seniors say religion is "not important at all" in their lives.
Compared to the early 1980s, twice as many high school seniors and three times as many college students today say they have no religious affiliation, the study found.
And compared to the 1990s, 20 percent fewer college students say they were above-average in spirituality, which indicates that spirituality has not replaced religion, the study authors said.
"Unlike previous studies, ours is able to show that millennials' lower religious involvement is due to cultural change, not to millennials being young and unsettled," Twenge said.
The study was published online recently in the journal PLOS One.
"These trends are part of a larger cultural context, a context that is often missing in polls about religion," Twenge said. "One context is rising individualism in U.S. culture. Individualism puts the self first, which doesn't always fit well with the commitment to the institution and other people that religion often requires. As Americans become more individualistic, it makes sense that fewer would commit to religion."
The American Academy of Family Physicians discusses spirituality and health.