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Posted February 17, 2010

Catholics of all ages see U.S. moral values on decline, survey says

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Although they are more likely to describe themselves as liberal, the youngest American Catholic adults believe almost as strongly as other generations that the nation's moral values are headed in the wrong direction. The millennial generation of Catholics, ages 18-29, also are more likely than those of Generation X (ages 30-44) or the baby-boom generation (ages 45-64) to say that commitment to marriage is not valued enough in this country.

Eighty-two percent of Catholic millennials said marital commitment is not valued enough, exceeded only by the 89 percent of the "greatest generation," those over 65, who said so. Seventy-nine percent of Generation X Catholics and 77 percent of baby boomers agreed.

Those were among the results of a survey commissioned by the Knights of Columbus and made public Feb. 11.
The survey -- conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. -- included a number of values-related questions along with others about ideology, religious practices and beliefs, life goals, business ethics and feelings about the nation's future.

Asked whether "moral values in this country are headed in the right direction or the wrong direction," 67 percent of Americans said it was headed down the wrong path.

The percentage of those who felt that way increased with age; 72 percent of those 65 and older and 60 percent of the millennial generation saw a decline in moral values. The Generation X and baby-boomer respondents were at 65 percent and 69 percent, respectively.
The survey also asked whether respondents considered themselves liberal. One-third of the millennials said they were, as compared to 28 percent of Generation X, 29 percent of baby boomers and 18 percent of the greatest generation.
Respondents also were asked whether each of 12 "social virtues" were "generally valued or not valued enough."
The only virtue that at least 77 percent of every generation said was undervalued was commitment to marriage.
Three-quarters of Catholic millennials said respect for a person's hard work and honesty and integrity were not valued enough. Among Generation X Catholics, 80 percent said respect for other people was not valued enough, while 74 percent said honesty and integrity were undervalued.
Seventy-five percent of Catholic baby boomers said they thought personal responsibility and respect for other people were not valued enough in American society, while 75 percent of the oldest Catholics said respect for the law was not valued enough. The social virtue seen as undervalued by the smallest percentage of each generation of Catholics was religious observance. Only 43 percent of millennials, 47 percent of Generation X, 51 percent of baby boomers and 52 percent of the greatest generation said religious observance was not valued enough.
Although the percentages were slightly lower in most cases, the same patterns emerged among the total population of each generation, with commitment to marriage and personal responsibility seen as undervalued social virtues by the largest percentages of each group.
Marist conducted the survey Dec. 23-Jan. 4 among 2,243 Americans, including an oversample of 1,006 millennials. The margin of error for the survey was plus or minus 2 percentage points for Americans and plus or minus 3 percentage points for millennials.