Beliefs in society: Religion and Social Groups – Age


General decline in church attendance

One explanation of a general decline in church attendance is the generational effect whereby as society becomes more secular, each new generation is less religious than the previous one. Many older people grew up at a time when religion was more popular. By comparison, the young today are no longer receiving a religious socialisation and Sunday schools are increasingly a feature of the past. This suggests that in the future, congregations will be small.

Finally older people may attend church more because they have become disengaged from other aspects of society. They may no longer work and friends increasingly die. The church can continue to offer a network of people to relate to.

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Younger people

Younger people tend not to be at religious services although that is not true for Muslims or Neo Pentecostalists. Most young people will find the churches, particularly, outdated and uncool. There is, however, a spiritual marketplace these days full of NRM’s who advertise themselves in more media savvy ways and these may attract more young people. This does not mean that they do not believe, however, but may wish to express those beliefs more privately or in some way which is difficult to capture in statistics. Davie refers to this as ‘Believing without belonging’.

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Age, sects and cults

 Young adults are more likely to join sects. This may be because:

* They have more freedom to withdraw from the world.

* They are more likely to be seeking moral guidance and community

Middle aged, middle class people are more likely to join cults.  Cults appeal to those who feel deprived; they may claim to help them achieve life’s goals or to help them feel spiritually fulfilled.  

 Ruickbie (2004) claims that most people who practice witchcraft are in their thirties and forties.  Many women use Wicka and associated religious practices for healing and personal development.

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Gender, age and social class

* Men involved in New Age movements are more likely to be younger or middle-aged, whereas women are mainly middle-aged.

* Younger working class women are more inclined to use divination than well-being therapies such as aromatherapy. 

* Middle class females are more likely to attend traditional churches.  They are often users of New Age therapies, but disapprove of divination.


This supports Davie’s claim that while the working class is more likely to believe, but not belong, the middle class tends to believe and belong.

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Ethnicity, age and religion

While religious beliefs and practices are falling in younger people, this is not always the case for younger minorities.  The higher level of religiosity demonstrated by their parents’ means that religion is an important part of everyday life.  However, some sociologists have suggested that the offspring of immigrants are not as religious as their parents.  For example, Modood (1994) claims that many second-generation Muslims flout the ‘no alcohol’ rule.  One of the reasons for this is because they have been socialised into wider culture and their ethnic identity is not as important to them.  According to Knott, young Asian women often clash with parents demands over how they dress, while young Muslim women object to ‘veiling’.


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