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WASHINGTON — Members of the millennial generation are less religious, less likely to call themselves “patriotic” and significantly more liberal than older generations, new research shows.

Although adults from ages 18 to 33 are much more likely to call themselves political independents than their elders are, they are also far more likely to vote Democratic.

Their views favoring activist government and their stands on social issues such as gay rights reinforce that voting behavior, an extensive study by the Pew Research Center shows.

The youngest generation of adults, born after 1980, has the most optimism about the country. That comes despite the economic difficulties many have experienced since entering the workforce.

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The millennials are also the only generation of adults with more people who identify themselves as liberals than as conservatives.

Just less than one-third of millennials call themselves liberals while about one-quarter identify as conservative. Nearly half say they have become more liberal as they have aged, with 57 percent saying their views on social issues have become more liberal over time.

By contrast, among members of the baby-boom generation, 41 percent call themselves conservative and only 21 percent identify as liberals.

Baby boomers are also more likely to say that growing older has made them more conservative. On this and most other issues, the views of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) fall between those of the baby boom and millennial generations, and the views of those born before the baby boom are more conservative.

The liberal views of the youngest adult generation show up on a range of issues. Nearly seven in 10 say they support same-sex marriage, for example, just more than half identify themselves as “supporters of gay rights.” They are also far more likely to favor legalization of marijuana. Opinions on abortion and gun control, by contrast, show little generational difference.

Just more than half of millennials say they favor a “bigger government providing more services” rather than a smaller government.

Four in 10 members of the millennial generation are nonwhite, a much larger percentage than in older age groups. Their generally liberal views shape the generation’s outlook although whites in the millennial generation also hold somewhat more liberal views on government than white members of older generations.

A smaller share of millennials have married than among older generations at this stage of their lives. Only about one in four millennials have wed, compared with more than one-third of Generation X when they were in their 20s and 30s, and nearly half of the baby boomers.

That decline in marriage rates may reflect the lessened attachment that members of the generation have to other institutions. Almost three in 10 say they are religiously unaffiliated, nearly twice the share among baby boomers.

The Pew report on millennials is based largely on a new survey conducted Feb. 14-23 among 1,821 adults nationwide, including 617 members of the millennial generation. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

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