A recent survey claims that American women are rapidly falling away from religion. But is that really true? Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson explain why the decline is implausible—and why you should be skeptical of reporting on surveys about religion:
The national news media yawned over the Baylor Survey’s findings that the number of American atheists has remained steady at 4% since 1944, and that church membership has reached an all-time high. But when a study by the Barna Research Group claimed that young people under 30 are deserting the church in droves, it made headlines and newscasts across the nation—even though it was a false alarm.
Surveys always find that younger people are less likely to attend church, yet this has never resulted in the decline of the churches. It merely reflects the fact that, having left home, many single young adults choose to sleep in on Sunday mornings.
Once they marry, though, and especially once they have children, their attendance rates recover. Unfortunately, because the press tends not to publicize this correction, many church leaders continue unnecessarily fretting about regaining the lost young people.
In similar fashion, major media hailed another Barna report that young evangelicals are increasingly embracing liberal politics. But only religious periodicals carried the news that national surveys offer no support for this claim, and that younger evangelicals actually remain as conservative as their parents.