New Delhi: If religion is the opium of the masses, then in India, it is slightly more potent among older adults. More than half of India’s youth care about religion and this religiosity increases with age, according to data collected in a YouGov-Mint Millennial Survey.

Among young urban millennials online (those aged 23 to 29), around 58% consider religion as important to them compared with 65% of both older millennials (30- to 38-year-olds) and the even-older Gen-X (39 and above). The youngest adults (18- to 22-year-olds, or Gen-Z) care about religion the least—but even then, more than half of them (53%) consider religion important.

The generational divide in religious beliefs is most apparent in religious practice. When asked how often they pray, 85% of the Gen-X and 80% of older millennials said they do so at least once a day.

In contrast, 62% of the Gen-Z and 72% of younger millennials pray daily. These results come from an online poll of more than 5,000 internet users spread across more than 180 cities conducted by market researcher YouGov in partnership with Mint in January and February 2019.

Understanding millennial views is important because of their growing numbers. For businesses, millennials are a highly sought-after consumer group. And for politicians, millennials, many of whom are first-time voters, could be a key voter base. Among the 5,038 respondents in the YouGov-Mint survey, 2,709 were millennials (with 1,489 younger millennials), 1,188 were from the Gen-Z (born after 1996) and the rest 1,141 belonged to the older Gen-X.

Faith increasing with age is in line with global trends. According to Pew Research, a US non-profit research organization, religiosity declines through young adulthood before increasing again in later adulthood. One theory posited by psychologists is that people embrace new values during life’s later decades. Another theory suggests economics could be a factor: early adults are too busy trying to make money to worry about faith.

Data from the World Values Survey, a large-scale survey on values and belief which does not just focus on young urban Indians, found that 91% of Indians in 2012 considered religion as important in their lives—and this figure has increased over time. According to the survey, more people consider religion important in India than in the US (68%), China (11%) and Brazil (89%). Similarly, data from a 2015 Lokniti-CSDS survey also showed religiosity on the rise in India.

All this suggests that the slightly lower levels of religiosity among younger adults could merely be a rite of passage for young adults before they turn religious again.

Another important determinant of faith is gender. Breaking down the survey results by gender shows that as much as 64% of men considered religion to be important compared with 57% of women but in practice, women lead men (78% of women pray daily, compared with 71% of men).

A commonly held perception about religion is that religiosity changes with wealth. For instance, in a 2003 study, Robert Barro and Rachel McCleary find that as wealth increases, religiosity decreases. However, the YouGov-Mint data shows that there is no such pattern in India: 61% of respondents with a net monthly household income of 20,000 found religion important compared with 60% of respondents with a monthly income exceeding 200,000. Even in terms of religious practice, there are no major differences between how often the poor and rich pray.

This, too, mirrors the findings of the 2015 Lokniti-CSDS survey, which highlighted how religion transcends class divides (see charts 3a and 3b).

Geography also seems to exert little influence on religiosity. In cities across India’s different regions, there are no major differences in how strongly people value religion. One determinant of religiosity, though, is the religion that respondents follow.

Among followers of India’s three largest religions—Hinduism, Islam and Christianity—Muslims and Christians are more religious than Hindus. More than 80% of Muslims and Christians pray daily, compared with 70% of Hindus. This could be a reflection of inherent differences in the religions themselves. Abrahamic faiths, such as Islam and Christianity, place more emphasis on prayer and attendance at worship services, according to the Pew Research Centre.

This is the final of a three-part series on Indian millennials’ values and beliefs.

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