Do We Develop Different Levels of Spirituality Across Life Stages?

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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  • Jake


    November 2nd, 2012 at 10:45 PM

    It’s hard to find you g people that are deeply religious while it is equally easy to find older people who are. I often think of this as a result of being born in different periods. Now I have not seen those older people in their younger days and I do not know how today’s youngsters will turn out later on but that is the general assumption.

    Maybe the life stage matter maybe it doesn’t. But one thing that remains unchanged is that religiosity is onthe decline and in general people are becoming less religious as times progress.

  • Andy


    November 3rd, 2012 at 4:42 AM

    Oh I definitely agree with this.
    When I was growing up my parents had me at church any time the doors were open, and I guess in many ways this ended up turning me off from being spiritual when I was old enough to start making these decisions myself, like when I went to college.
    But when I got older and graduated from college and started a family it was something that has once again become very important to me. My wife and I have found a great church home and we are so excited to now raise our family this way, but hopefully in a way that will not turn our kids off in the same way that we once experienced.

  • emmett r

    emmett r

    November 3rd, 2012 at 2:55 PM

    I find that for most of us this is something that may have always been there, it just takes the right place and the right time to have it awaken in many of us.

    c\Case in point- I grew up going to church, just because, you know, it was kind of what we did. I was never really ambivalent about it, but I was never really all that hyped about it either. It just didn’t play that big of a deep role in my life until many years later.

    I think that this is something that you can’t understand when you are young. It takes a lot of years and a lot of life experiences to find out what spirituality means to you and how deeply it can affect you in a very moving and meaningful way.

  • will


    November 4th, 2012 at 12:02 AM

    I have to agree with parents who were non practicing Christians in their younger days are deeply religious people now.our priorities in life change as we grow old and I think the fear of death becomes too much for some people.for some others it is a time to make up for every wrong done and for some others it could be some other reason.but my observation is that people do become more religious as they age.

  • paul


    November 4th, 2012 at 6:28 AM

    The one thing that I have realized is that while I have always felt like a very spiritual person, it has definitely grown and matured just like I have as I have gotten older. And it has been nice feeling like it is something that I always have even when times have been hard. This is what sustains me, and givens me the strength to make it through incredibly difficult times. I don’t know that I would have always felt like this at other points in life, but as I have gotten older, my personal faith has deepened and that has in some ways made it easier for me to get through so many of life’s challenges.

  • Jessie


    November 5th, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    I have heard before that spiritual development happens the most when we have time for it. In our early adult years, we are busy trying to prepare for and make a career. In our middle adult years, we are raising children (which often leads to church membership but not necessarily spirituality) and cultivating careers. Once our children are grown and our careers are in their twilights, we finally have the emotional and physical space to develop a deeper, more personal spirituality that really means something to us.

  • meditation


    November 6th, 2012 at 12:22 AM

    In my opinion maturity or spiritual progress come with awareness. Ageing has nothing to do with it. By the way it’s my personal opinion and it might be wrong. By the way you can not measure a level of spirituality in a particular person because there is no instrument for this purpose. Sometimes I feel that the whole spirituality is hypothetical. It has no solid base of reality.

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