Global Religiosity

I always love reading international science polls.  I find it interesting to see the variation in thought and interpreting the data to try and make sense of the results.  I have even written a blog post about a poll (here)!  And now it seems time for another one.

I stumbled upon a recent Gallup International Poll that attempted to understand global religiosity and atheism. You may remember that earlier in the year Gallup released a similar poll indicating there has been no change in American creationist belief over the past 30 years.  Although that poll was shocking (and disappointing for me), the global polling results for religious belief do not reveal similar trends.

First what data was collected?  The Gallup International Poll collected data from 50,000 individuals from 57 countries and compared it with data collected in 2005 to analyze global trends in religious belief.

The facts

Global religious belief:

Religious 59%                                      Not religious 23%                              Atheist 13%

Alright so these stats were actually a little surprising for me.  The percentage of individuals claiming to be religious is lower than I expected, but I imagine it would be higher if the question was asking about belief in God, instead of affiliation to a religion.  Also, the percentage claiming to be atheist was a little higher than I expected, but still a sizeable global minority.

Where are the atheists?

  1. China 47%
  2. Japan 31%
  3. Czech Republic 30%
  4. France 29%
  5. South Korea 15%
  6. Germany 15%
  7. Netherlands 14%
  8. Austria 10%
  9. Iceland 10%
  10. Australia 10%                                  
  11. Ireland 10%

These results were completely unexpected to me and I think the data is subject to extreme interpretation.  China and Japan having the highest proportion of atheists may be because Buddhists do not always consider themselves religious.  Or it could be that people in general who do not adhere to a Abrahamic religion may not think about religious denomination in the same way as someone who has been influenced by Judeo-Christian culture.  I was also surprised that Canada, Sweden and Finland (all included in the study) did not have more self-identified atheists.

Who is the most religious?

  1. Ghana 96%
  2. Nigeria 93%
  3. Armenia 92%
  4. Fiji 92%
  5. Macedonia 90%
  6. Romania 89%
  7. Iraq 88%
  8. Kenya 88%
  9. Peru 86%                                          
  10. Brazil 85%

It is not surprising that 3 of the 6 African countries surveyed ranked in the top 10 of religiosity (and the other three were not far behind).  After colonization Christian and Islamic theocracies politically dominated the continent and as I’ll show below, poverty (ironically) is highly correlated with religious belief.  No developed country ranked in the top 20 religious countries.  For those interested the most religious G-20 countries are Italy (73%), Argentina (72%), South Africa (64%) and the United States (60%).

Religiosity among the poor

Bottom quintile 66%
Medium-low quintile 65%
Medium quintile 56%

Medium-high quintile 51%                                                                                   High quintile 49%

The trend is strong and significant.  The richer the country, the less religious.  Statistically, the United States is a noticeable outlier being the richest highly religious country.  China, Turkey, Vietnam and the Czech Republic are also outliers being the poorest least religious countries.  Despite this the overall trend is clear.  Richer countries can invest more in educating their population, and as the statistics also reveal (below), the more educated an individual, the less likely they are to be religious.

Religion and education

Less than secondary school 68%

Secondary education 61%

Higher education 52%

These stats were also not surprising.  The more education you have the more critical you become of religion and God in general.  The stats reflect that both nationally and internationally and could also explain the outliers in the economic trend (above).  The United States, although rich, does not invest enough in the education of its own population (or at least it is fair to say that there is disproportionate investment).  Whereas, China, Vietnam, Czech Republic and Turkey may be investing more in their education system, despite major economic constraints.

Global trends since 2005

  1. Vietnam 23%
  2. Switzerland 21%
  3. France 21%
  4. South Africa 19%
  5. Iceland 17%
  6. Ecuador 15%
  7. United States 13%
  8. Canada 12%
  9. Austria 10%
  10. Germany 9%

Religious decline does not necessarily seem concentrated in one particular region, although most countries experiencing steep religious declines are also developed countries.  They also seem to be countries with individuals that predominantly adhere to a Judeo-Christian religion.  There is a noticeable absence of countries from the Middle East and Africa on the list, but this is not surprising.  

Final thoughts

Although the overall trend is clear and religious belief is clearly being questioned globally, I don’t think these statistics indicate that religion is disappearing or will disappear in the near future.  The great majority of countries are still overwhelmingly religious and even the overall global religiosity index survey is biased because proportionally fewer people in the developing world (particularly Africans, Latin Americans and Middle Easterners) were interviewed.  If every country was surveyed and a larger sample was collected, I have no doubt that the global religious belief would be higher than 59%.



About Cadell Last
Hello. I'm probably drinking coffee and reading.

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