Spirituality and Religiosity Among Youth: International and U.S. Patterns


Child Trends

Spirituality and religiosity levels among youth may be influenced by the historical, cultural and economic factors of their home country, according to this new study. 

Participants in four international and three domestic surveys were asked to answer a variety of questions about practices, beliefs and self-identification. Levels of religiosity were based on whether the respondent follows the teachings and regularly attends services of a specific religion. Spirituality was more difficult to define but was generally determined by the frequency with which the individual prays and a self-proclaimed belief in God.

As many as 75 percent of youth living in countries with a history of a “dominant” religion and a developing economy, such as Pakistan, Egypt and Iran, responded that God and religion play a significant role in their daily lives. In contrast, youth in other economically developing countries, where a variety of religions are represented, tend to be less religious and/or spiritual. In many Western European countries, for example, only 10 percent of respondents said that God and religion were important to them.

The United States ranked roughly in the middle of these two groups. Nearly 50 percent of adolescents ages 13 to 17 who participated in a survey said that religion plays a “very strong” role in their lives,” yet researchers found that those beliefs tend to decline with age. As many as 90 percent of American adolescents reported that they believe in God, showing a significant gap between those who would be defined as “religious” and those defined as “spiritual.”

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