Recently, the Pew Research Center posted an article on its website called “18 striking findings from 2018,” by Abigail Geiger.
It summarized various public opinion studies from this past year that reveal the beliefs and experiences of Americans and, in some cases, people around the world.
I’m a sucker for surveys of any kind, as well as lists of any kind. Combine them and I find the results irresistible.
I don’t have room to recap all 18 entries, but here are a few of the more interesting ones:
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▪ Today’s 6- to 21-year-olds — called Generation Z — will likely become the most diverse, and best-educated, American generation ever.
Only 52 percent of Generation Zers are non-Hispanic whites, compared with 82 percent of Baby Boomers in 1968. Twenty-five percent are Hispanic, 14 percent are black, 6 percent are Asian and the rest are of other races.
The older members of Generation Z, who have recently finished high school, are going to college at a much higher rate than their Millennial and Generation X predecessors did — 59 percent to, respectively, 53 and 44 percent.
Social scientists have long speculated that these trends, especially racial and ethnic shifts, will create huge changes in our cultural and political landscapes. We’ll see.
▪ Despite widespread angst about growing illegal immigration, the number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States actually has decreased over the past decade.
In 2007, there were 12.2 million immigrants here without legal status. By 2016, that had fallen to 10.7 million, a decline of about 14 percent (if my math is right).
Of those 10.7 million, two-thirds of the adults have lived here more than 10 years, meaning they aren’t new arrivals but long-term residents.
As is often the case, public fears and political propaganda don’t square with the facts.
Undocumented immigrants make up about 3 percent of the U.S. population, again according to my rudimentary calculations.
▪ Younger Americans are noticeably more accomplished than older ones at separating factual statements in the news from statements that merely express opinions.
Given a list of statements, 32 percent of those 18 to 49 were able to correctly identify all five factual statements, compared with only 20 percent of those over 50.
Forty-four percent of 18- to 49-year-olds identified all five opinion statements, whereas only 26 percent of the 50-plus crowd could.
These differences persisted whether the statements were chosen to appeal to liberals or conservatives; in both cases, younger adults more accurately parsed facts from opinions.
There are speculations as to why this is so. For instance, that younger people might be more media savvy. I suspect it has something to do with higher levels of education among younger adults; education tends to develop better critical thinking skills.
▪ A decreasing number of U.S. Catholics think Pope Francis is handling the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal well.
In June 2015, 55 percent of Catholics thought the pope was doing a good or excellent job addressing sex abuse; 34 percent thought he was doing only a fair or poor job.
By September 2018, those numbers had reversed. Just 31 percent rated his performance as good or excellent, while 62 percent described it as fair or poor.
According to Pew, Francis remains popular overall among Catholics. Clearly, though, the church finds his response to the sex scandal lacking.
▪ Almost seven in 10 Americans say they’re worn out by the amount of news they’re confronted with. Republicans and those who lean Republican (77 percent) are somewhat wearier than Democrats and the Democratic inclined (61 percent).
Those who consume the least news are more tired of it — 78 percent. Those who don’t think the media do a good job of informing people are likeliest of all to say they’re news-weary — 80 percent.
That makes sense, I suppose. If you don’t think the media are trustworthy, you’re less inclined to seek out news, and apt to be bummed by the news you do encounter.
▪ Ninety percent of Americans believe in God or a higher power of some type. But far fewer that that believe in the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible.
A majority (56 percent) say they “believe in God as described in the Bible” — a statement that can mean wildly different things to different people.
Roughly one-third believe in a higher being, but not the biblical God.
And about 10 percent don’t believe in any supreme being. But of course, as other studies have found, the number of atheists is growing, as are the ranks of agnostics, the religiously unaffiliated (“nones”) and those who hold non-traditional beliefs.
Also, Pew finds that the more education people have, the less likely they are, statistically, to believe in the God of the Bible or a higher power — and we’re becoming better educated.
The United States has long remained an outlier among Western nations, far more religious on virtually every indicator of faith. Religion has been in retreat in Western Europe since World War II; there it has become all but irrelevant.
I suspect we could, at long last, be headed in that same direction.