When Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in 1830, he was struck by how many Americans were participating in voluntary associations. It was quite a contrast with his native France, where power was centralized in Paris and people did not trust each other enough to join in voluntary groups.
Tocqueville might have a different impression should he, utilizing time travel, visit the America of 2030. Or so I conclude on reading the recently released Pew Research Center report on the attitudes and behavior of America's Millennial generation.
By then the Millennials, people born after 1980, will be closing in on age 50 and will be the dominant segment of the working-age population.
Today the Millennials, write the Pew analysts, are "relatively unattached to organized politics and religion," and significantly more unattached than the age cohorts -- Generation Xers, Baby Boomers, Silent Generation -- that came before.
Politically 50 percent of Milennials classify themselves as Independents rather than Democrats or Republicans, compared to about 36 percent of their elders, and less than one-third of Millennials see a great deal of difference between the political parties.
Large majorities of Millennials voted for Barack Obama -- 66 percent in 2008 and 60 percent in 2012. But only 49 percent approve of his performance now, just a bit more than among Xers and Boomers. Only 34 percent of white Millennials rate Obama's performance positively.
On religion most Millennials say they believe in God, but it's a smaller majority than among older age groups, and only 36 percent say they see themselves as "a religious person," versus nearly 60 percent of their elders.
Some 29 percent of Millennials are religiously unaffiliated, a percentage that has been rising in recent years. They're evidently moving away from their parents' religion but not moving toward one of their own.
One reason may be that people tend to join churches when they marry and have children -- and Millennials, so far, aren't doing much of either. Only 26 percent of Millennials age 18 to 32 are married, far lower than other generations were at their age (Xers 36 percent, Boomers 48 percent, Silents 65 percent).
Millennials aren't entirely rejecting parenthood, but 47 percent of births to Millennial women are outside of marriage. Even so, about 60 percent of Millennials, like their elders, say that having more children raised by a single parent is bad for society.