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    What America Thinks
    Americans Turning to God at the Turn of the Century

    By Richard Morin
    Washington Post Polling Director
    Monday, May 10, 1999

    If none of those Y2K computer debuggers actually work, here's something to try: Prayer. As it happens, many Americans already say they'll be talking to God when 2000 dawns, according to a national survey conducted by Yankelovich Partners and sponsored by the Lutheran Brotherhood.

    The survey found that more than a third – 36 percent – of those interviewed say they will be praying "more than usual" to usher in the new millennium. (Poll-takers didn't ask what they would be praying for.) Twenty-seven say they will seek spiritual guidance and 25 percent claim that they will go to church more often on or after Dec. 31, 1999.

    "It's common for people to rely on their spiritual beliefs when they feel uncertain about something new," says Louise Thoreson, Lutheran Brotherhood's vice president of charitable outreach. "People probably feel they need to somehow prepare in the coming months because they've never experienced a new millennium before."

    Still, most Americans dismiss the religious significance of the millennium's end. More than six in 10 – 62 percent – say people are overreacting to the religious significance of the millennium's end – more evidence of a growing backlash to millennium madness.

    "From a religious perspective, most people are treating the end of the millennium like the end of any other year," Thoreson says. "In fact, there's a consensus that too many people are making a big deal about what the new millennium means from a religious standpoint."

    The survey found that men are more likely than women to believe people are attaching too much religious significance to the millennium's end. "However, Generation Xers [those in their late twenties and early thirties] are significantly more likely than elderly people to believe the new millennium is meaningful from a religious standpoint," according to an analysis of survey results. But even among Xers, only 34 percent say the start of a new millennium is significant "from a religious standpoint," compared to 22 percent of those sixtysomething or older.

    By a 36 percent to 20 percent ratio, people who attend church regularly are somewhat more likely to say the new millennium is spiritually important than those who don't go to church. "This isn't surprising because four out of 10 (41 percent) [of] weekly churchgoers say there has been talk about the new millennium at their place of worship," analysts wrote. "Southerners are more likely than people living elsewhere in the United States to discuss the new millennium at church."

    Those Darn Kids

    What's wrong with kids these days? Plenty, according to the latest survey by Public Agenda measuring what adults think of children and teenagers.

    "More than seven in 10 adults resort to words such as 'rude', 'irresponsible,' and 'wild' to describe today's teens, and more than half also describe young children disapprovingly," survey analysts report. Parents were somewhat more likely than adults overall to view kids negatively.

    According to the poll, barely one in five described children or teens positively and this dismal view of today's youth is shared by . . . today's youth, the poll-takers found. "On the whole, high hopes for kids are wanting – no more than two in five adults, parents or teens themselves say youngsters today will grow up to make America a better place."

    Not even a third of all teens interviewed – 32 percent – agree that today's children "will make America a better place," compared with 40 percent of all parents and 38 percent of the general public.

    Parents, too, were singled out for sharp criticism. About half – 49 percent – said they blame "irresponsible parents" for the problems children face, up from 44 percent in a Public Agenda survey conducted two years ago. Thirty-seven percent said in the recent survey that "social and economic pressures on families" were primarily responsible.

    Six in 10 adults said it's "very common" for people "to have children before they are ready to take responsibility for them." Likewise, about half said people divorce too quickly these days instead of "trying to stay together for the sake of their kids." And fewer than one in four – 23 percent – said it's relatively rare to find "parents who are good role models and teach their kids right from wrong."

    But most Americans also agree it's tough being a parent. More than three in four – 78 percent – said it is "much harder" being a parent than in the past, while just 4 percent say it was easier. And about half said it is "very common" for parents to "sacrifice and work hard so their kids can have a better life" – even if their kids don't necessarily appreciate it.

    Students and Money

    Speaking of kids and young adults, two-thirds of American high school and college students say they need to know more about about how to manage their money, and the vast majority have never taken a class in personal finance, according to a new survey conducted for the American Savings Education Council.

    The survey also found that only one in four students make a budget "and stick to it" while one in eight agree that "avoiding money problems is mostly a matter of luck." A total of 1,000 randomly selected students ages 16 to 22 were interviewed for the survey.

    Richard Morin is director of polling for The Washington Post. "What Americans Think" appears Mondays in The Washington Post National Weekly Edition. Morin can be reached at .

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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