Parents and teens in the U.S. generally share the same faith (or lack thereof), a new study published by Pew Research finds. While the study results may not be surprising, at least one point is interesting: Teens raised in evangelical households are more likely to identify with the faith of their parents than their mainline Protestants peers.
Eight out of ten teens raised in Catholic and evangelical Christian homes identify with the faith of their parents, Pew’s study found. However, fewer mainline Protestant teens (55 percent compared to 80 percent) identify the same way as the parents who raised them. Additionally, teens raised by mainline parents were more likely than other Christian faiths to identify as religiously unaffiliated (24 percent).
One encouraging note from the study found that on average, teens attend services about as often as their parents do. The study reports “44 percent of U.S. teens say they go to religious services at least once a month, almost exactly the same as the share of their parents who say they attend monthly (43 percent).” Among those who attend church more frequently than once a month, those percentages go up: “Among parents who say they attend religious services on a regular basis (at least once or twice a month), 88 percent have a teen who also reports attending that often.”
The study authors identified mainline Protestants as those belonging to denominations such as the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Pew interviewed some 1,800 teenagers (aged 13 to 17) and their parents regarding their religious views. The interviews were conducted March 29 to April 14, 2019. It’s important to note that as these interviews were conducted before the pandemic hit the U.S. in 2020, the service attendance information reflects the attendance habits of parents and teens before worship services were disrupted.
Conflicting Views Among Parents and Teens
While the majority of Christian teens say they identify with the same religious group as their parents, that doesn’t mean they see eye-to-eye on everything. The study asked teens and their parents whether to what degree they hold the “same religious beliefs as their parents.”
Almost half (48 percent) of teens say they hold “all the same” beliefs as their parents, while 43 percent said “some of the same” beliefs and 8 percent said they held “quite different” beliefs.
Interestingly, those teens that answered their beliefs differed some way from their parents—either “somewhat” or “quite different”—a third of those respondents said their parents don’t know that their beliefs differ. Also among this group, 17 percent say the difference in opinion is a point of conflict between the teen and his or her parents.
Parents and teens were also asked to evaluate how important religion is to the opposite party. For instance, parents were asked how important religion is to their teen, and teens were asked how important religion is to their parents. Overall, most parents and teens were on the same page with these evaluations. Pew reports, “73 percent of teens give the same answer as their parent about how important religion is to the parent, and 68 percent of parents give the same answer about how important religion is to their teen.”
However, something interesting shows up when you look at the responses of teens and parents who do not evaluate each other similarly. Pew writes:
But among those who do not agree, parents are far more likely to overestimate the importance of religion to their teen than to underestimate it. For example, among all parents who give a different answer than their teen does regarding the importance of religion to the teen, 69 percent think religion is more important in the life of their teen than their teen does, and 29 percent believe it is less important to their teen than their teens says. Meanwhile, among all teens who give a different answer than their parent on the importance of religion in their parents’ lives, 43 percent overestimate how important religion is to their parent, while 55 percent underestimate it.