Spirituality and religious affiliation have been shown to have many positive psychological benefits. For young people, having a deep sense of faith can act as a buffer against internalizing and negative coping strategies. But as people mature, their views and beliefs toward things change. To get a better understanding of how spirituality and religiosity evolve over life stages for men and women, I. Tucker Brown of the Department of Pastoral Counseling at Loyola University in Maryland recently led a study that assessed spiritual development in three separate generational samples.
Using the Assessment of Spirituality and Religious Sentiments (ASPIRES), Brown evaluated 697 men and 1,534 women born in the 1950s (silent generation), the 1960s (baby boomers), or the 1980s (millennial generation). He measured how religious involvement and spiritual maturity waxed and waned and also looked at if and when people experienced religious crises. The results revealed that those with the highest levels of spirituality were from the baby boomer and silent generations. The least religiously involved or spiritual were the millennial participants, those who came of age during a time of consumption, excessive financial aspirations, and surrounded by an attitude of acquisition.
Brown believes that members of the youngest generation may move away from religion and spirituality as they gain independence from parents and seek their own identities. Later, when individuals enter middle adulthood and form relationships, raise children, and become socially active, religion and spirituality may become more important. Even though Brown found that elderly participants had higher levels of spirituality than the millennial participants, they were less spiritual than, but as religiously active as, the baby boomers. Perhaps this is because the oldest participants put more stock in religious activities and traditions. “Involvement in religious ritual may provide more psychological comfort to the elderly as they attempt to create the ﬁnal synthesis of their lives,” Brown said. Another interesting finding was that, overall, women had higher levels of spirituality, while men experienced more religious crises. The findings of this study give insight into how levels of spirituality and religiosity evolve over the course of one’s life. Future work should continue this exploration by integrating longitudinal data for people from various generations.
Brown, I. T., Chen, T., Gehlert, N. C., Piedmont, R. L. (2012). Age and gender effects on the assessment of spirituality and religious sentiments (ASPIRES) scale: A cross-sectional analysis. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030137
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