'Spiritual' but non-religious Gen Z are lonely and craving relationships, study shows

Young people feel a stronger sense of purpose if they have more than three meaningful interactions a day or adult mentors in their life, the study found.(Photo: Unsplash/Kevin Laminto)

A major study of Gen Z has found more interest in spirituality and relationships than in religion.

The State of the Religion & Young People 2020 report by the Springtide Research Institute is based on over 10,000 surveys with people aged 13 to 25. 

The findings echoed trends of the past decade, with 40% saying they were religiously unaffiliated, yet most of that number (60%) still calling themselves "spiritual".

One in five (19%) said they attended a religious gathering at least once a month but only around one in 10 (12%) said it was for scriptural study. 

Loneliness was also widespread within Gen Z, with well over half (60%) saying they felt "very isolated" and over two thirds (69%) reporting three or fewer meaningful interactions a day. 

The study also uncovered a link between having meaningful interactions and an adult mentor, with feeling a sense of life purpose. 

A fifth (21%) of young people who said they had no meaningful interactions each day said they never feel like their life has meaning. 

But this sense of purposelessness fell significantly to only 4% among those who said they had only one meaningful interaction per day. 

And for respondents who said they had an adult mentor, over two thirds (69%) said their life had meaning and purpose, rising to 85% for those who said they had two to four adult mentors, and 91% if they had five or more adult mentors. 

The findings also suggested that young people respond better to authority if they feel cared for. 

Over three quarters (79%) said they were "more likely to listen to adults in my life if I know that they care about me," while 87% said they trust adults if they take time to foster relationships with them. 

Commenting on the results of the study, Springtide executive director Josh Packard said the findings showed that relationships were "more important than checkboxes".

"The inner and outer lives of Gen Z are complex, and the world they live in, it's complicated," he said. 

"The way that young people form bonds, make meaning, and live out their values is constantly changing. This is without a doubt the most diverse generation that has ever existed."