Gen Z more likely to reject traditional morality, less likely to see people as ‘basically good’: poll

Written by on June 20, 2024

Although Generation Z is more likely to reject viewpoints associated with traditional morality, the youngest group of American adults is less likely to embrace the idea that humans are “basically good,” new research suggests.

The Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University released new findings from its 2024 American Worldview Inventory Tuesday. Based on responses from 2,000 adults surveyed in January 2024, the data compared views on moral behaviors across groups of American adults sorted by generation.

“Millennials and Gen Z have largely dismissed Christianity as an irrelevant faith,” George Barna, a prominent Evangelical pollster and director of the Cultural Research Center, said in a statement.
“Yet, they are coming to the same conclusion as the Bible: people are not basically good. We’re sinners. Sin distorts our minds and our hearts, producing bad choice after bad choice. Repentance and reliance upon Jesus Christ are the solutions — an antidote that people dismiss as ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘foolish.’ But biblical truths are the only reliable truths and they serve us best.”

Generation Z, defined for the study as adults between the ages of 18 and 21, was much more likely than the older generations to reject ideas aligned with a traditional understanding of morality.

The survey categorized respondents between the ages of 22 and 40 as millennials, adults between the ages of 41 and 59 as Generation X or Busters, adults aged 60-78 as Boomers and everyone 79 or older as Elders.
Sixty-nine percent of Generation Z respondents believed that having an abortion constituted acceptable behavior, followed closely by 67% of millennials. Slightly smaller shares of Boomers (61%) and Busters (59%) agreed that it was morally acceptable to “have an abortion for any reason other than to protect the life of the mother or child.”

The overwhelming majority (73%) of Gen Z saw no problem with having “consensual sexual relations with someone of the opposite sex to whom you are not legally married,” along with 69% of millennials, 63% of Gen X respondents and 59% of Boomers.

Additionally, most Gen Z respondents (60%) thought it was OK to “tell a falsehood of minor consequence in order to protect your personal best interests or reputation” as did 54% of millennials, 51% of Gen X adults and 48% of Boomers.

An overwhelming majority of Gen Z (66%) agreed that “it is morally acceptable to do anything you desire as long as it does no harm.” A significantly smaller majority of millennials (55%) and less than half of Gen X (40%) and Boomers (29%) said the same.

Gen Z was the least likely generation to identify the Bible as their “primary source of moral guidance.”

Just 21% of the youngest demographic of American adults affirmed the Bible as their guide for determining the difference between right and wrong. In comparison, slightly higher shares of millennials (29%), Gen X (34%), and Boomers (37%) pointed to the Bible as their influence on determining morality.

“Like the Millennials before them, Gen Z reflects similar levels of support for gay marriage, the rejection of absolute moral truth, and the dismissal of the notion that every moral choice either honors or dishonors God,” the report states.

“Knowing that most spiritual and moral beliefs and behaviors do not change during the adult years unless a significant, life-transforming personal crisis intervenes, it is unlikely that the worldview elements that characterize Gen Z today will change substantially in the years to come.”
Support for allowing “two people of the same biological sex” to get married was strongest among millennials (70%), followed by Gen X (67%). An even smaller share of Gen Z said the same (62%), with Boomers slightly behind at 61%.

The researchers said there are “two noteworthy exceptions to the worldview continuum” that saw higher support for ideas at odds with traditional morality among the older generations as opposed to the younger ones.

“Gen Zers are less likely than people from earlier generations (including Millennials) to believe that people are basically good,” the report stated.

While the research documented how “a record-breaking proportion of Gen Z accepts abortion as a morally defensible activity, currently they are less likely than adults in older generations to have participated in an abortion.”

Barna said young adults “tend to form their worldview primarily through feelings and personal experiences, rather than logic or facts.”

“Gen Z grew up with a daily bombardment of conflicting messages about right and wrong,” Barna said. “Most of them lived in homes traumatized by divorce. Crime has escalated precipitously in recent years.”

Noting that war and terrorism “have been constant, looming threats” and that bullying, pedophilia and child trafficking have been part of “their life’s narrative,” Barna stressed that “without any kind of deeper spiritual wisdom provided to put these matters in context, it is not surprising that so many young adults feel their way through uncertain times and conclude that human beings are not inherently good.”

Barna believes the U.S. is witnessing “the destruction of biblical morality.”

“Whatever people feel about that reality, we must recognize that an inescapable outcome of the traditional moral base is the weakening of personal relationships,” he said.

“The move toward self-centered choices reflects our diminishing view of the motives and value of humanity,” he lamented. “Without God, the definer of morality and the judge of moral behavior, at the center of our thinking about right and wrong, we have no stable grounds on which to base our choices.”

Barna stressed that “abandoning the absolute boundaries given to us in the Bible” means society has “opted for unpredictable and conflicting standards that serve us poorly.”

“America is now harvesting the sad product of what it has been cultivating for the last 40-plus years,” he concluded.

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