The Current

Millennials are turning to astrology to cope with an uncertain world: journalist

Astrology is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, with apps and social media accounts that can give you daily guidance from the stars. Journalist Julie Beck says that people who find astrology useful don't care that it has no basis in science.

People who find astrology useful don't care that it has no basis in science: Julie Beck

Horoscopes have long been a feature of newspapers and magazine, but they are now finding a new lease of life online. (Eva Hambach/AFP/Getty Images)
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Astrology may not have any basis in science, but that hasn't stopped it becoming popular with world-weary millennials, says one journalist.

"There are a lot of surveys and stuff now that find that millennials are the most anxious generation," said Julie Beck, a senior editor and writer with The Atlantic.

She said that astrology makes the claim to look into the future, and that "can be comforting even if deep down you know this isn't real or it has no basis in reality." 

"It just is giving you something to hold on to in the future, to reduce that uncertainty."

The ancient teachings about how celestial bodies supposedly affect our lives on earth is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. There are apps that give you daily direction from the stars, and celebrity astrologists — like B.C.-born Chani Nicholas — amass huge following on social media. 

Journalist Julie Beck has looked into the rise in popularity of astrology. (Submitted by The Atlantic)

Beck has investigated what's driving the new popularity in an article for The Atlantic, that explored the uptake among millennials. She spoke to The Current's interim host Laura Lynch about what she found. Here is part of their conversation.

There's been something of a stigma around astrology for quite a long time, but it sounds like that's changing. What did you find? 

I think it is changing in some ways and not in others. ... I think that for a lot of young people, the fact that it's not scientific is not necessarily a barrier to them being interested in it.

A lot of people who I spoke to, it's not so much that they believe in astrology, that it's "real" or that the planets are really doing these things to them.

But it sort of provided them a language to speak about things that were happening in their lives, and in the world around them, that they found useful and helpful. And to them it mattered more that it was useful, than whether it was real.

Organized religion is actually on the decline. Can some of astrology's popularity be seen as a replacement for that?

I don't know that people are necessarily replacing religion with astrology. I think in some ways they're drawn to it, maybe because it seems like a more spiritual or mystical practice.

It sort of provided them a language to speak about things that were happening in their lives, and in the world around them, that they found useful and helpful.- Julie Beck

One thing that was very interesting to me when I was researching this is, like everybody wanted to give me their explanation for why astrology was back. And a lot of them were just diametrically opposed.

So some people would say: "Oh, you know, these young people, they're so narcissistic and astrology just like tells you all about yourself and they love that."

And that may be true, but other people were saying: "People feel so powerless right now with everything going on in the world, and so they want to, like, turn away from the earth and look up to the stars."

And that may be true, too, right? But those are kind of opposed things, like navel gazing or star gazing. And I think it can be both.

I know that I used to pay more attention to astrology when I was younger. … What did you find about when people need astrology, or think they need astrology in their lives, and when they no longer need it? 

It seems like in times of stress and uncertainty, people are really drawn to astrology.

There was one woman I spoke to for my story who I think really exemplifies this, and she was someone who was just really unhappy in her work life and her dating life. She was trying to find a partner, and trying to find a new job, and going out all the time with friends who she didn't really feel were good for her.

I don't think that we should ignore the things that people find meaningful. People find truth in fiction all the time, and we give that plenty of attention- Beck

And she kind of got this idea into her head from one of the astrology websites that said: "Oh, next year, Jupiter is going to be in this place in your chart and it's going to bring all these great things for you, if you spend the time this year getting ready for it."

So she starts doing all this stuff. She stops going out. She starts cooking at home. She starts dating. She starts looking for new jobs. And then, you know, lo and behold, the next year, when Jupiter comes into whatever area of her chart, she finds the man she's gonna marry.

She gets a new job. She cut some friends out of her life. And of course, you can say like: "Yeah, well, of course these things happened because she started preparing for them and changing things in her life."

She attributes it somewhat to this Jupiter belief, because she started doing all these things. And then she told me: "Now I don't really read my horoscope very much, because now I'm happy."

There's likely to be someone listening out there who thinks it's a waste of time to talk about astrology at all. Why do you say it's worth thinking about?

I'm sure there are a lot of people who say that. What I would say is that attention is not an endorsement. And I don't think that we should ignore the things that people find meaningful.

People find truth in fiction all the time, and we give that plenty of attention. So to me, I think the things that animate people's lives and where they find meaning are worth critical thought and examination, even if they are not, quote unquote, real.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Peter Mitton. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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