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More social trust among churchgoers, study finds

25 June 2021

Connection networks can be acquired by religious participation


BABY-BOOMERS and millennials who go to church are more likely to trust their neighbours and donate to charity, says a new study that compares the levels of “social capital” — the network of connections — which the two groups experience.

Participating in religion gives boomers and millennials more social trust, the research, published in The Sociological Review, suggests. Those who went to church, even as infrequently at once a year, were more likely — by about four to five percentage points — to trust their neighbours.

Millennials (born after 1982) who said that their religious belief made “some” difference to their daily life were about four percentage points more likely to donate to charity than those who said that it did not make a difference. Those who said that it made “much” difference were seven points more likely.

Baby-boomers (born between 1946 and 1958) who attended religious services at least once a week were the most likely to donate to charity, and about eight points more likely than those of a similar age who did not attend church. The same was true for millennials, although the difference between those who participated weekly and who did not participate at all was 12 points.

The research was carried out by Stuart Fox, from Brunel University; Ekaterina Kolpinskaya, from Exeter University; Jennifer Hampton and Esther Muddiman, from the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data at Cardiff University; and Ceryn Evans, from Swansea University.

They re-analysed the findings of a variety of academic social-interaction studies and data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study and the British Household Panel Survey. From that, they calculated that, while 33.9 per cent of boomers professed to be non-religious, among millennials the figure rose to almost two-thirds (61.3 per cent). Among the religious, Anglicans accounted for 34 per cent of the total, a figure that dropped to just 7.25 per cent among millennials.

Religious participation was measured by attendance at religious services. Almost half (48.5 per cent) of the baby-boomers and nearly two-thirds (54.2 per cent) of the millennials said that they almost never attended church. More than one fifth (21.5 per cent) of baby-boomers and and one eighth (12.9 per cent) of millennials visited church at least once a week.

The study found that millennials were less likely to join groups and associations, and less likely to be religious, but being involved with church gave them more “religious capital” than churchgoing baby-boomers. Baby-boomers often had more social capital than millennials, and were more likely to be religious.

Religious millennials might be more likely to encounter and interact with baby-boomers, and this could “boost” the value of their religious capital. Religious baby-boomers, in contrast, were likely to encounter others of the same age with similar social lives; so their church-based interactions had less of a social benefit.

More than half (50.3 per cent) the millennials believed that that having faith made no difference to their lives, compared with 36.2 per cent of baby-boomers. Almost one fifth (19.3 per cent) of baby-boomers thought that it made a big difference. That dropped to 16 per cent among millennials.

Dr Fox said: “While lower levels of religious capital are contributing to lower levels of social capital among millennials, religious activity is also a more effective source of social capital for millennials than their elders.”

Millennials who said that religious beliefs made a big difference to their daily lives were significantly more likely to join community associations — by about 13 percentage points. The research suggests that millennials who participated in religious services at least once a year — or once a month, or once a week — were about ten points more likely to join a community association than those who did not. For baby-boomers, the difference is three points.

Dr Kolpinskaya said: “We found religious participation increases associational membership for both generations regardless of its intensity: what matters is the difference between boomers or millennials who participate in religious activity at all, and boomers or millennials who do not.”

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