Bringing Up Nones: Intergenerational Influences and Cohort Trends

Vern L. Bengtson, R. David Hayward, Phil Zuckerman, Merril Silverstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Recent polls show that an increasing number of young adults profess no religious affiliation. Prior research has suggested several explanations for this, among them older ages at marriage, higher education rates, reaction against the priest/pedophile scandal, and political backlash against the religious right, as well as the traditional explanation of youthful rebellion against religious parents. In this article, we propose another theory: intergenerational transmission, an increase in the number of parents and grandparents who have been explicitly socializing their children to a nonreligious worldview. We use a mixed methods approach with data from the 34-year Longitudinal Study of Generations to examine parents’ and grandparents’ influence on youth over several decades. The rate of nonreligious young persons in our sample tripled between 1971 and 2005. Though this undoubtedly reflects broader cohort trends, we can trace a significant portion of this growth to family intergenerational continuity brought about by explicitly nonreligious socialization by parents as well as grandparents. Qualitative data provide insight into processes of nonreligious influence over generations, seen in three types: multigenerational socialization of humanism, of atheism, and of the unintended socialization of “religious rebels” from highly religious parents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)258-275
Number of pages18
JournalJournal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • atheists
  • families
  • generations
  • nonreligious
  • youth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Bringing Up Nones: Intergenerational Influences and Cohort Trends'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this