Major Special Topics Surveys Print

Survey | How Race and Religion Shape Millennial Attitudes on Sexuality and Reproductive Health

[03.27.2015]

Findings from the 2015 Survey of Millennials, Sexuality, and Reproductive Health.

Read the full report here. Read the news release here. Read the topline questionnaire, including the survey methodology, here. Watch a video of the survey’s release here.

A majority (53%) of millennials say the country has gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track, compared to 45% who say it is going in the right direction. White and black millennials are near mirror opposites: close to two-thirds (64%) of white millennials say the country has gotten off on the wrong track, while more than seven in ten (71%) black millennials say it is moving in the right direction. A majority (53%) of Hispanic millennials also say the country is moving in the right direction. Asian-Pacific Islander (API) millennials are more divided—49% say right direction, 46% say wrong track.

Sex Education

PRRI Millennial Cover smallThree-quarters (75%) of millennials favor teaching comprehensive sex education in public schools, while 21% are opposed. Support for this policy cuts across all racial, ethnic, and religious groups.

Nearly one-quarter (23%) of millennials report they did not have a sex education class in middle or high school. Notably, millennials who attended religious high schools are significantly more likely than those who attended public high schools to report that they had no sex education courses (32% vs. 21%, respectively).

Among millennials who had a sex education class in school, nine in ten say that the information they received is very (39%) or somewhat (51%) accurate. However, nearly four in ten (37%) millennials say that sex education classes were not helpful to them in making decisions about sex and relationships. Black (27%) and Hispanic millennials (32%) are about twice as likely as white (14%) and API millennials (12%) to say that sex education classes were very helpful to them in making decisions about sex and relationships.

Sex_Education_High_School_Middle_School

More than two-thirds (67%) of millennials say that emphasizing safe sexual practices and birth control is a better way to prevent unintended pregnancy than emphasizing abstinence from sex (23%). There is general agreement across racial and ethnic lines on this question. White evangelical Protestant millennials stand apart from other millennials, with half (50%) favoring an emphasis on birth control, compared to 40% favoring an emphasis on abstinence, and eight percent in favor of emphasizing both.

Health Insurance Coverage

More than eight in ten millennials say that health insurance should include coverage for HIV and STD testing (87%) and prescription contraception (82%). Sixty percent say that emergency contraception should also be covered by health insurance, although support is somewhat greater among millennial women than millennial men (64% vs. 56%, respectively). Less than half (45%) of millennials say abortion services should be covered by health insurance, while 51% say they should not be covered. Views about abortion coverage are stratified by educational attainment: a majority (54%) of millennials who have a four-year college degree, versus only 38% of those with a high school degree or less, support health insurance covering abortion.

A majority (58%) of millennials—including majorities of API (64%), Hispanic (67%), black (57%), and white millennials (55%)—say privately owned corporations should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception. However, strong political divisions persist. While 73% of Democratic and 57% of independent millennials say privately owned corporations should be required to provide contraception coverage in employees’ health care plans, only 38% of Republican millennials agree.

Comfort Discussing Sexual Health Issues

The degree to which millennials feel very comfortable discussing health issues varies considerably depending on the topic and the other person involved in the conversation. Two patterns stand out consistently across health topics: black millennials are less likely than other millennials to feel very comfortable discussing health matters with their spouse or partner, and API millennials are less likely to feel very comfortable talking about these topics with their parents. For example, white (51%), API (52%), and Hispanic millennials (46%) are more likely than black millennials (32%) to say they are very comfortable talking about STIs with their partner or spouse.

When seeking out information about sexual health and relationships, millennials most regularly rely on three sources: doctors (45%), friends (44%), and the Internet (43%). Fewer millennials say they consult their parents (30%), a religious leader (11%), a therapist (11%), or a teacher (10%) for information pertaining to sexual health.

Sexual Health Experiences

Nearly one in five (18%) millennial women report having used emergency contraception at some point, and roughly three in ten (29%) say a close friend or family member has used this form of birth control. Less than one in ten (7%) millennial women report having an unintended pregnancy, although this experience is common within their social network—42% report that this has happened to a close friend or family member. Eight percent of millennial women report that they themselves have had an abortion, but four times as many (36%) say a close friend or family member has had an abortion. A similar number of millennial women (9%) report that they became a parent as a teenager, while nearly half (46%) of millennial women say that a close friend or family member became a parent as a teenager. The sexual health experiences of millennial women vary considerably by race and ethnicity. Hispanic millennial women report higher usage of emergency contraception than millennial women overall. Black millennial women are more likely than other millennial women to know someone who has had an abortion.

Only one percent of millennials overall report that they themselves are HIV positive or have AIDS, but 13% report that they have a close friend or family member living with HIV or AIDS. Black (23%) and Hispanic millennials (21%) are more than twice as likely as white (8%) or API millennials (9%) to say they have a close friend or family member who is HIV positive or has AIDS.

Contraception

More than Morally_acceptable_birth_control_contraceptiveseven in ten (71%) millennials say that using artificial birth control is morally acceptable, compared to fewer than one in ten (9%) who say it is morally wrong. Fourteen percent say it depends on the situation. Overwhelming majorities of virtually every subgroup of millennials say it is morally acceptable to use contraception. Nearly eight in ten (78%) millennials also favor making all forms of legal contraception readily available on college campuses.

Most millennials (55%) oppose requiring a prescription to obtain emergency contraception, like the “morning after” pill, while 40% are in favor of this requirement.

Eight in ten (81%) millennials favor increasing access to contraception for women who cannot afford to pay for it. Notably, this support for increasing access to birth control for women cuts across all racial, ethnic, religious, and political groups.

Six in ten (60%) millennials—including 64% of women and 55% of men—agree that access to contraception is critical for the financial security of women, while more than one-third (36%) disagree. Seventy-three percent of Democratic millennials and 58% of independent millennials say that access to contraception is critical for women, while less than half (44%) of Republican millennials agree.

Abortion

Millennial attitudes about the legality of abortion generally mirror the attitudes of the general public. A majority of millennials say that abortion should be legal in most cases (33%) or legal in all cases (22%), while more than four in ten say it should be illegal in most cases (27%) or illegal in all cases (15%). A majority (55%) of millennials also say at least some health care professionals in their community should provide legal abortions, compared to 36% who disagree, and seven percent say they are unsure or that it depends on the circumstances. Notably, however, there are no significant differences between the opinions of millennial men and women on the issue of abortion.

Millennials are divided by religion on the issue of abortion. On one side, at least six in ten black Protestant (61%) and white mainline Protestant millennials (63%) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, as do 79% of religiously unaffiliated millennials. White Catholic millennials are evenly split between those who say abortion should be legal in all or most cases (51%) and those who say it should be illegal in all or most cases (49%). On the opposing side, majorities of Hispanic Catholic (55%) and Hispanic Protestant millennials (61%) think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. White evangelical Protestant millennials stand out as the group most opposed, with eight in ten (80%) saying abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

Personal experience with abortion strongly impacts views about legality. Among women who report having had an abortion, nearly eight in ten (79%) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 20% who say it should be illegal. Similarly, among millennial women who have a close friend or family member who has had an abortion, 63% say it should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 37% who say it should be illegal.

A majority (56%) of millennials also oppose making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion, compared to 40% who favor such policies. Majorities of millennials in the Northeast (64%), South (58%), and West (55%) say they oppose making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion. Millennials in the Midwest are divided about whether it should be more difficult for a woman to get an abortion (47% oppose, 48% favor).

Half (50%) of millennials living in the South say it is somewhat or very difficult to obtain an abortion in their community, compared to roughly four in ten millennials living in the West (40%) and Midwest (42%), and only one-third (33%) of millennials living in the Northeast.

While a majority of millennials are supportive of the legality of abortion and the availability of abortion services, most oppose a policy that makes abortion legally available to young people age 16 or older without parental approval. Nearly six in ten (59%) millennials oppose making abortion services available to young women age 16 or older without parental consent, while 37% support this policy.

Pro-life_pro-choice-abortion-debate

Most millennials are uncomfortable attaching themselves exclusively to the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” labels that have defined the abortion debate for decades. Only about one-quarter of millennials identify exclusively as “pro-life” (25%) or “pro-choice” (27%). Approximately as many millennials (27%) say that both labels describe them equally well, while 22% say neither label describes them well. There are no differences between millennial men and women, but the willingness to embrace these labels varies considerably by racial and ethnic background.

Moral Evaluations of Behaviors Related to Sexuality and Reproductive Health

When evaluating the morality of sexual behaviors, millennials generally do not make black-and-white judgments, but rather factor circumstances into their reasoning. In fact, across seven behaviors related to sexuality, there were no issues for which a majority pronounced them morally wrong in general. For example, while 41% of millennials say that sex between two people under the age of 18 is morally wrong—compared to one-quarter (24%) who say it is morally acceptable—nearly three in ten (29%) say it depends on the circumstances.

On the issue of abortion, millennials strongly factor specific circumstances into their moral evaluations. More than one-third (35%) of millennials say having an abortion is morally wrong, compared to 21% who say it is morally acceptable—but a plurality (39%) say that the morality of a decision to have an abortion depends on the particular situation. Compared to other ethnic groups, Hispanic millennials exhibit the greatest moral reservations about having an abortion. Close to half (45%) of Hispanic millennials say having an abortion is morally wrong, compared to 35% of white, 30% of black, and 23% of API millennials. However, the importance of circumstances is apparent even among Hispanic millennials. While only 16% of Hispanic millennials say having an abortion is morally acceptable in general, 36% say the morality of the decision depends on the situation.

Most millennials (56%) agree that in certain circumstances, having an abortion is the most responsible decision a woman can make, compared to 40% who disagree. A majority of white (55%), black (59%), and API millennials (70%) agree that in some circumstances, having an abortion can be the most responsible decision a woman can make. Hispanics are closely divided over whether having an abortion can be the most responsible decision or not (51% vs. 46%, respectively).

Stigma Related to Sexuality

Millennials say that no group faces more negative social judgment than transgender people. Nearly half (47%) of millennials say that transgender people face a lot of stigma in their community. More than one-third of millennials say that a person living with HIV or AIDS (36%), a pregnant woman under the age of 18 (34%), and parents under the age of 18 (34%) also face a lot of negative social judgment in their community. Fewer than three in ten millennials say that gay or lesbian people (29%) or a woman who has had an abortion (24%) face a lot of stigma in their community.

Sexual Assault

Fifteen percent of millennial women report that they themselves have been sexually assaulted, and more than twice that number (34%) report that this has happened to a close friend or family member. There are large disparities in experiences with sexual assault by race and ethnicity. Rates are highest among black millennial women, among whom nearly one in five (19%) report being the victim of sexual assault and twice as many (38%) say a close friend or family member has experienced sexual assault.

Sexual_assault_by_race

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of millennials, including 71% of men and 75% of women, say sexual assault is somewhat or very common on college and university campuses. More than eight in ten (81%) black millennials say sexual assault is somewhat or very common in colleges and universities, compared to less than three-quarters of white (74%), Hispanic (70%), and API millennials (63%).

Fewer, but still a majority of millennials (53%), say incidents of sexual assault are somewhat or very common in high schools. Seven in ten (70%) black millennial women and two-thirds (66%) of black millennial men say sexual assault is a common problem in high schools. A larger gender gap exists among white millennials; 59% of white millennial women say sexual assault is very or somewhat common in high schools, compared to only 44% of white millennial men.

Six in ten (60%) millennials, including 63% of women and 56% of men, say colleges or universities are not doing enough to address the problem of sexual assault. A majority (53%) of millennials, including nearly six in ten (59%) women but only 47% of men, say that high schools are not doing enough to address the issue of sexual assault.

Discrimination in the Workplace

Most millennials think that discrimination against women in the workplace remains a significant problem in the U.S. Millennial women are much more likely than millennial men to agree that women get fewer opportunities than men for good jobs (67% vs. 49%, respectively), that women still do not receive equal pay for equal work (72% vs. 56%, respectively), and that employers should make special efforts to hire and promote qualified women because of current and past discrimination (68% vs. 53%, respectively).

Work-Life Balance and Marriage

Millennials view women having a full-time job as a less serious problem for families than men who concentrate too much on work. Roughly two-thirds (66%) of millennials disagree that family life suffers when the woman has a full-time job, compared to 30% who agree. Millennials are nearly evenly split over whether family life suffers because men concentrate too much on their work (49% agree, 47% disagree). Millennial men and women are about equally likely to see men who work too much, rather than women who work full-time, as the greater threat to family life.

Family_Life_Suffers_Female_Male_Sexuality_Reproductive_Health

Millennials are split on the necessity of romantic partners dividing family and household responsibilities evenly. A slim majority (51%) of millennials agree that it is not that big of a deal if one person in a relationship takes on most of the family and household responsibilities, while 46% disagree. Notably, the opinions of married millennials are nearly identical to those who are single, and there is only a modest gender gap on the question.

One-quarter (25%) of millennials agree that marriage has become old-fashioned and out of date, while about seven in ten (71%) disagree. Both married and single millennials offer nearly the same generally positive assessment of marriage.

The 2015 Millennials, Sexuality, and Reproductive Health Survey was released on Friday, March 27 at The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, D.C. Watch a video of the survey release below; the PowerPoint used in the presentation is also available.