Home / News / Atheism is on the rise on a global level, international study reveals — the poor are the most religious
Atheism is on the rise on a global level, international study reveals — the poor are the most religious

Atheism is on the rise on a global level, international study reveals — the poor are the most religious

The results of a "Religiosity and Atheism" poll conducted by WIN-Gallup International reveals that from the period 2005-2012, atheism is on the rise (3 percent increase globally) and religion is seeing a decline (9 percent decrease globally).  51,927 people from 57 countries were interviewed.  The 57 countries represent more than 73 percent of the world's population.

Those surveyed were asked, "Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person or a convinced atheist?"

RedC Opinion Poll's press release noted that "59 percent of the world said that they think of themselves as religious person, 23 percent think of themselves as not religious whereas 13 percent think of themselves as convinced atheists. However, when we compare this to the Irish population, only 47 percent consider themselves religious, placing Ireland low on the index of being religious coming in at position 43 out of 57 countries."

The press release is 25-pages long and includes a wealth of tables and statistics.  Some of the highlights include:

  • Religiosity is higher among the poor.  People in the bottom income groups are 17 percent more religious than those in top income groups, indicating that the better off we are, the less religious we become (page 3).
  • The top ten atheist populations, based on the percent of those who said they are "a convinced atheist," are China, Japan, the Czech Republic, France, Korea, Rep (South), Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Iceland, Australia and Ireland (page 4).
  • The most religious countries are Ghana, Nigeria, Armenia, Fiji, Macedonia, Romania, Iraq, Kenya, Peru and Brazil (page 4).
  • Globally, those claiming to be religious dropped by 9 percent while atheism rose by 3 percent.  Comparatively, there was a 22 percent drop among the Irish population claiming to be religious (page 5).
  • Since 2008, the top ten countries experiencing a notable decline in religiosity are Vietnam, Ireland, Switzerland, France, South Africa, Iceland, Ecuador, the United States, Canada and Austria (page 6).

Gallup International Association is not related to Gallup Inc., headquartered in Washington DC.

About D.

  • Wally

    Where are the churches going to get the money to buy elections now?

    • Deborah_B

      The tithe enforcement squads will be out, patrolling wallets. In more seriousness, though, I think tax-exempt religious institutions are going to be well-bankrolled for awhile. I do think they fear on some level their dwindling flock and that's why we're seeing so much "Christian nationalism" and "Christian voting" type of preaching going on because they want to force their beliefs on everyone through legislation.

  • Looked over the PDF study; lots of stuff for sociologists to ponder. Now that we know the "what," it would be interesting to know the "why." We get a starting point of the “why” via the correlation b/w religiosity and income.

    • Deborah_B

      I agree. The PDF includes a lot of interesting data. I think over the years, Phil Zuckerman and others have also shown this correlation (and a correlation of general well being and reduced crime in countries that are not religious), but I don't know if anyone has determined the causation yet — i.e., do poor people seek out religion, or do religious nations engender poverty. I am guessing that the ongoing religious fights and Catholic sex abuse scandals are what contributed to the huge change in Ireland.

      • From some research I've seen it appears religiosity is something our brains are wired for if we feel we are not in control. They showed it as an explanation for why the disproportionate amount of poor are so religious, they(or their brains) turn to it to cope with "why" they have a less then desirable position in life. Was an interesting experiment, think I saw a video version of it on the science channel as well.

        • Deborah_B

          Thanks for the reminder. I've seen some of that, too, and Mriana who writes here has some articles to that effect, if I remember right.

  • This is good to hear. The non religious mind is usually more scientific, and willing to look for the truth rather then believing what has always been assumed. We need more people willing to seek truth rather then myth. There are exceptions, as there are some notable scientists who believe in god, and some atheists who are not scientifically minded, but my statements are "in general."

  • t8kit4real

    I totally agree! Religon encourages the poor to remain poor and to keep their eyes on the prize (God's kingdom)but they do prefer to be 'funded' by their poor flocks. While the poor get spiritualy fed the rich "shepards" get porked.

  • Dick Marti

    I would like to see a better or different understanding of the words "atheist" and "atheism". Atheism is commonly understood, and used pejoratively, to describe someone who does not "believe in God". This "God" is conveniently left undefined, often deliberately so, to wrap Him, Her, or It in a mystical aura untouchable by science, philosophy, or even theology itself. So, an atheist, in my view, is NOT someone who disbelieves in God, but is, rather, someone who disbelieves in a THEISTIC God. I do not believe in a theistic god, so by the old definition I am an atheist, yet I "believe" in a god that is equivalent to Nature, indeed it is a god who IS Nature itself. I put "believe" in quotes because I prefer not to use the word so frequently, particularly in religious discussions. If God=Nature, then we need not "believe" in God, we can know God, study God, and question God empirically. So, who are the atheists now?

    • Deborah_B

      Deists, Buddhists, pantheists, New Thought and many others do not believe in the kind of god typically promoted by religion, The press release was not clear to me what a "convinced atheist" is, and whether this would include pantheism. I suspect that the "not religious" category includes these types of groups.

      • Thanks! That's why I don't ascribe to any "ist or "ism." All they do is separate people with mostly superstitious nonsense. Just try NOT believing what you're told! See what happens.

  • nsajigwa

    As a rare freethinker here in Afrika where religion is as omnipresent everywhere as air itself, I do wonder How come
    living in a post-industrial society West, witnessing self evidence of human achievement
    still continue to be theists?

    They in-turn could wonder, How
    could we people in Afrika, mired in abject poverty, wars, and diseases constantly,
    thus self evidently witnessing "the failure of god to care", still believes in
    one-even the more..?
    Nsajigwa in Dar es salaam Tanzania East afrika

    • Nsajigwa…Sorry to hear you are surrounded by desperate and unreasonable believers in god. Unfortunately, early on, many believers (of all faiths) learn to think of themselves as insecure and fearful. They never learn to think for themselves…IOW, religion thrives mainly because "beliefs" displaces thinking (our creative mode) and that is deadly.
      Ironically, the "belief" phenomena does bring people together…some for good reasons and for just as many bad ones.
      Evidence for God? How can Muslims kill Muslims over all these years and proclaim, "God is Great? To me this is clear evidence that there is no god "out there."
      I think (not believe) that God is found within every one of us. And ironically, when I discovered God was within me (and you) I no longer had to convince anyone. Fact is, to "believe" it, is to miss the point entirely.
      Namaste (I bow to the God within you)
      Donny Rothbardt
      Abington, PA

  • nsajigwa

    As a rare freethinker here in Afrika where religion/faith is omnipresent everywhere, I wonder How come
    do people
    living in a post-industrial society west, witnessing self evidence of human achievement
    still continue to be theists?

    They in-turn could wonder,How we people in Afrika, mired in abject poverty, wars, and diseases constantly,
    thus self evidently witnessing the "failure of god to care", still believe in
    one the more..?

    • Deborah_B

      It cannot be easy being a freethinker in that environment. Proselytizing to African countries has become almost an industry, from what I can tell.

  • advancedatheist

    The growing numbers of atheists in the U.S. must give American christians the creeps because we look like an invasion of time travelers from the 22nd Century or something. The absence of god beliefs in our lives suggests to christians that their own religion might not have much of a future.

    I so look forward to the coming "Jesus who?" era!

  • The poor are more religious? Makes sense. An old quote also says the poor are also poor in spirit. With all due respect to my fellow humans, it's my opinion that religion is needed mainly by the insecure and the fearful.
    But after 40-50 years of contemplation, luckily I was able to distinguish Spirituality from religion. What a relief from the burden of having to "believe" in superstitions and nonsensical dogma. Thinking for myself saved me lotsa grief.
    Donny (Life Coach)

  • I don't ascribe myself to any "ist" or "ism." I do however, ascribe to the human race. A while ago, one of my wonderful mentors suggested I "do violence" to my belief system. The thought annoyed, even angered, me. And after a long difficult road, in was able to do just that. But there required a substitute…and that was simply, thinking for myself. An AHA moment! Amazingly, and at the same time, I found a welcome relief in ridding myself of the "burden of believing." I was left totally empowered.

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