America in the Midst of a ‘Generational Transformation’ of its Moral Landscape

What Millennials began, Gen Z is accelerating, regarding the generational transformation of the nation’s moral landscape. This, according to new data from the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University’s American Worldview Inventory 2024.

Dr. George Barna, director of Research at Arizona Christian University’s Cultural Research Center, says biblical worldview incidence in the U.S. has declined for five consecutive generations and during that time, the number of adults holding a biblical worldview has plummeted from 12% to today’s 4% level. 

“Our studies of teenagers and preteens indicate that the national incidence will drop another two points within the next 15 years, unless some dramatic and unusually effective spiritual renewal event occurs.”

In exploring four dozen worldview measures, Barna pointed out that traditional morality is one of the major casualties of Millennials and Gen Zs replacing Boomers (ages 60-78) and Elders (79 and older) as the largest generations in the adult population.

Data from the American Worldview Inventory 2024 shows a dramatic shift in morals, including:

  • A majority of adults accept lying, abortion, consensual intercourse between unmarried adults, gay marriage, and the rejection of absolute moral truth as morally acceptable.
  • Less than half of all adults embrace the Bible as their primary guide to morality. A minority believes that every moral choice either honors or dishonors God.
  • A large minority of adults accept the notion that as long as you do no harm, you may do whatever you wish.

While Millennials have disrupted and reshaped moral beliefs and behavioral norms established by Boomers and Busters (also known as Gen X, ages 41 to 59), Gen Z (born between 2003 and 2021) is maintaining or accelerating these trends, and is further reshaping or solidifying these as the new moral norms. Among the issues:

  • Accepting abortion. While six out of 10 Boomers and Busters consider having an abortion to be acceptable behavior, nearly seven out of 10 Millennials (67%) and Gen Zs (69%) endorse abortion.
  • Accepting consensual sex between unmarried adults. Echoing the pattern related to abortion, the AWVI 2024 shows that six out of 10 Boomers and Busters consider sexual intercourse between consenting, unmarried adults to be morally acceptable, but a higher proportion of younger adults (69% of Millennials and 73% of Gen Zs) endorse such sexual encounters.
  • Refusing to repay a loan that is due. Overall, about one-quarter of adults from generations encompassing people 55 and older say they accept the refusal to repay a loan to a wealthy relative who does not push for repayment to be morally acceptable. Nearly twice as many younger adults accept such a refusal to repay what is due to be morally defensible (42% of Millennials, 50% of Gen Zs).

Perhaps inspired by the boldness of their parents or older siblings, Gen Z has also forged new levels of acceptance of other moral beliefs and behaviors, going where not even Millennials had dared to tread:

  • Accepting lying. Six out of 10 Gen Zs say that lying to protect your personal best interests is morally acceptable. That far surpasses the one-half of older adults.
  • Accepting behaviors that produce no apparent or significant harm. Three out of every 10 Americans (29%) from the generation that made “if it feels good, do it” a catch phrase (i.e., Boomers) maintain that it is morally acceptable to do anything you desire as long as it does no harm. That in itself is alarming. But the numbers swell with each succeeding generation. Among Gen X, 40% embrace that mindset. A solid majority of Millennials (55%) accept the mantra, which grows even larger—to two out of every three Americans—who are part of Gen Z (66%).
  • Rejecting the Bible as one’s primary moral guide. A mere one out of five Gen Z representatives (21%) identify the Bible as their primary source of moral guidance. That is notably lower than the proportion of adults from older generations (29% of Millennials, 34% of Baby Busters, and 37% of Baby Boomers).

Like the Millennials before them, Gen Z reflects similar levels of support for gay marriage, the rejection of absolute moral truth, and the dismissal of the notion that every moral choice either honors or dishonors God.

Knowing that most spiritual and moral beliefs and behaviors do not change during the adult years unless a significant, life-transforming personal crisis intervenes, it is unlikely, Barna says, that the worldview elements that characterize Gen Z today will change substantially in the years to come.

However, there are two noteworthy exceptions to the worldview continuum. Gen Zers are less likely than people from earlier generations (including Millennials) to believe that people are basically good. This may be a result, Barna says, of the cultural turbulence they experienced during their formative years.

“Young adults tend to form their worldview primarily through feelings and personal experiences, rather than logic and facts,” Barna says. “Gen Z grew up with a daily bombardment of conflicting messages about right and wrong. Most of them lived in homes traumatized by divorce. Crime has escalated precipitously in recent years. War and terrorism have been constant, looming threats. Bullying, pedophilia, and child trafficking have been part of their life’s narrative. Under such conditions, and without any kind of deeper spiritual wisdom provided to put these matters in context, it is not surprising that so many young adults feel their way through uncertain times and conclude that human beings are not inherently good.”

Barna also underscored the irony of that shift in thinking. “Millennials and Gen X have largely dismissed Christianity as irrelevant. Yet, they’re coming to the same conclusion as the Bible: that people are not basically good. We’re sinners. Sin distorts our minds and hearts, producing bad choice after bad choice. Repentance and reliance upon Jesus Christ are the solutions—an antidote that people also dismiss as ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘foolish.’ But biblical truths are the only reliable truths and they serve us best.”

The latest report from the American Worldview Inventory 2024 also looks at moral trends by different segments of the U.S. population, including by church affiliation, theological perspective, and by political views.