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New survey shows millennials’ attitudes about contraception, abortion

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Young people attend a youth rally and Mass at Our Lady of the Snows Parish in Chicago in early March 2011. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

By Carol Zimmermann Catholic News Service 

WASHINGTON — U.S. millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, don’t want to be pigeonholed into categories.

They are predominantly religiously unaffiliated and not identified by any political party. They are more ethnically and racially diverse than the general population.

This group of 18- to 35-year-olds doesn’t like to be labeled as “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” They mostly approve of the use of contraception and they support policies to make contraception more widely available and affordable. They also have a predominantly positive view of marriage, not viewing it as old-fashioned or out of date.

These findings are from a study released March 27 by the Public Religion Research Institute, which surveyed 2,314 young adults online in February. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

The study, “The 2015 Millennials, Sexuality and Reproductive Health Survey,” looked at how race and religion shape attitudes on these topics.

During a presentation in Washington to review the results, panelists including health care advocates and Robert Jones, the research institute’s CEO, emphasized that today’s young adults tend to form their views on sexuality and reproductive health based on those of friends and family.

They said millennials focus on relationships and tend to take a more liberal view such as supporting same-sex marriage or accepting those who are gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual. The group, as a whole, also tends to be pragmatic. As one panelist pointed out, millennials have always lived in a world where HIV/AIDS exists.

“Experience trumps ideology,” said more than one panelist, noting that often young adults base their opinions on experiences of people they know.

According to the survey, 71 percent of millennials said the use of contraceptives was morally acceptable and 9 percent said it was morally wrong. Fourteen percent said it depends on the situation.

When the survey group was broken down by religious and ethnic traditions, white evangelical Protestants stood out as the only group that views abstinence as more effective than contraceptives.

Seventy-two percent of white Catholics and 74 percent of Hispanic Catholics said an emphasis on safe sexual practices and contraception was more effective than abstinence. The Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception is morally wrong.

Seventy-eight percent of millennials overall favored making all forms of legal contraception readily available on college campuses and 81 percent favored increasing access to contraception for women who cannot afford it.

On the issue of abortion, millennials reflect the attitudes of the general public. Fifty-five percent of them said abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Along religious divides, 80 percent of white evangelical Protestants again said abortion should not be legal. Fifty-one percent of white Catholic millennials and 55 percent of Hispanic Catholics said abortion should be legal.

The Catholic Church believes abortion is morally wrong and that human life is sacred from conception onward.

Compared to other ethnic groups, Hispanic millennials exhibited the greatest moral reservations about having an abortion. Forty-five percent of Hispanic millennials said having an abortion is morally wrong, compared to 35 percent of whites, 30 percent of blacks and 23 percent of Asia Pacific Islanders.

The survey found that most millennials seek out information about sexual health and relationships from doctors or health care providers, friends and the Internet. Thirty percent said they seek such information from a parent and 11 percent look for it from a religious leader.

The survey also showed that 73 percent of millennials said sexual assault is at least somewhat common on college campuses and 53 percent said such incidents are somewhat common in high schools.

In another reveal, the survey notes that millennials view men who concentrate too much on work as a more serious concern for families than women who have a full-time job. Forty-nine percent of millennials said that family life suffers when men focus too much on their work, compared to 30 percent who said family life suffers when a woman has a full-time job. Sixty-six percent of millennials disagreed that women working full time is a threat to family well-being.

When panelists reviewing the survey were asked what it is millennials, so often described as nonjudgmental, really want, the consensus was that they want what everyone else does: love, support and companionship.

Posted March 27, 2015

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