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Worldwide Atheism Trend and Pattern – A Summary Thursday, May 3, 2007

Posted by Henry in agnosticism, atheism, Buddhism, China, Christianity, Europe, faith, God, Hinduism, Islam, Italy, Japan, Middle East, North Korea, Portugal, rationality, religion, Scandinavian, science, secularism, South Korea, statistics, survey, Sweden, United States, Vietnam, world.

This is the sort of article I have been long searching for – a comprehensive, analytical and scholarly summary – filled with hard data – of atheism trends in the world. This 2005 article is written by Phil Zuckerman and seems to have been part of a Cambridge University publication. Although slightly outdated, it nonetheless provides a reliable and useful source for anyone interested in the study of the atheist demographics.

It is not a short article, so I will take the liberty of summarising it further here. Firstly it outlines the difficulties in conducting a survey on the beliefs and disbeliefs of large populations. Then it provides a good statistics on the atheism population in many countries. Then, most importantly, the Top 50 list of non-believing countries is presented, which I will duplicate here (I have stripped out the population columns due to space limits):

  Country % Atheist/actual # Agnostic/Non-believer in God
1 Sweden 46-85%
2 Vietnam 81%
3 Denmark 43-80%
4 Norway 31-72%
5 Japan 64-65%
6 Czech Republic 54-61%
7 Finland 28-60%
8 France 43-54%
9 South Korea 30%-52%
10 Estonia 49%
11 Germany 41-49%
12 Russia 24-48%
13 Hungary 32-46%
14 Netherlands 39-44%
15 Britain 39-44%
16 Belgium 42-43%
17 Bulgaria 34-40%
18 Slovenia 35-38%
19 Israel 15-37%
20 Canada 19-30%
21 Latvia 20-29%
22 Slovakia 10-28%
23 Switzerland 17-27%
24 Austria 18-26%
25 Australia 24-25%
26 Taiwan 24%
27 Spain 15-24%
28 Iceland 16-23%
29 New Zealand 20-22%
30 Ukraine 20%
31 Belarus 17%
32 Greece 16%
33 North Korea 15% (?)
34 Italy 6-15%
35 Armenia 14%
36 China 8-14% (?)
37 Lithuania 13%
38 Singapore 13%
39 Uruguay 12%
40 Kazakhstan 11-12%
41 Estonia 11%
42 Mongolia 9%
43 Portugal 4-9%
44 United States 3-9%
45 Albania 8%
46 Argentina 4-8%
47 Kyrgyzstan 7%
48 Dominican Rep. 7%
49 Cuba 7% (?)
50 Croatia 7%

where (?) indicates the relatively low certainty/validity. Note that rather than defining the terms “atheism”, “agnosticism” and “non-belief”, which is a tricky issue in itself, the article lumps all three together to simply mean people who do not believe in God. The range of percentages (for example the top non-believing country Sweden is 46% – 85%) gives an indication of the difficulties in reaching such figures. Finally, the author gives his own analysis on atheism trend and pattern using the data.

In general, we can conclude that non-believing is noticeably higher in developed countries, in particular the Scandinavian countries. One interesting exception is that of Vietnam, which ranks in second place due to the “coercive atheism” – atheism imposed by dictators. Europe, which has been termed “secular Europe” by some, shows convincingly that it has the highest rate of non-believers. Japan and South Korea come as no surprise in the top 10, as both countries are historically and traditionally non-God-believing societies. Japan is often cited by me as an example against the stupid assertion that you cannot have morality without God. It is a country with one of, if not the, lowest crime rate in the world, and according to the two studies referenced by the article, it has 64% and 65% of its population not believing in God (and somewhat surprisingly, 55% not believing in Buddha). Israel is actually a huge surprise on the list:

According to a 2004 survey commissioned by the BBC, 15% of those in Israel do not believe in God. According to Yuchtman-Ya’ar (2003), 54% of Israelis identify themselves as “secular.” According to Dashefsky et al (2003), 41% of Israelis identify themselves as “not religious.” According to Kedem (1995), 31% of Israelis do not believe in God, with an additional 6% choosing “don’t know,” for a total of 37% being atheist or agnostic.

Unsurprisingly the United States is down the list, sitting at number 44. Its neighbouring countries on the list are much less developed. Italy and Portugal represent two of the big European nations with lowest non-believing populations. China and North Korea have unreliable data due to their totalitarian regime. The Middle East (with the exception of Israel), as a geographical region, has the highest God-believing demography – with less than a paltry 5% are non-believers.

It is quite safe to say, as the author has stated as well, that it is quite clear that the wealthier, more developed nations tend to be more atheist. Quoting the article:

According to the 2004 Report, the five highest ranked nations in terms of total human development were Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands. All five of these countries are characterized by notably high degrees of organic atheism.

where “organic atheism” means atheism of free-will – as oppose to “coercive atheism” (imposed by government).

Furthermore, of the top 25 nations ranked on the “Human Development Index,” all but one country ( Ireland) are top-ranking non-belief nations, containing some of the highest percentages of organic atheism on earth. Conversely, of those countries ranked at the bottom of the “Human Development Index” — the bottom 50 — all are countries lacking any statistically significant percentages of atheism.

The article continues to analyse the data using different angles – this time with infant mortality rate:

According to the CIA World Factbook (2004), out of 225 nations, the top 25 nations with the lowest infant mortality rates were all nations containing significantly high percentages of organic atheism. Conversely, the 75 bottom nations with the highest infant mortality rates were all very religious nations without any statistically significant levels of organic atheism.

Other social facets examined in relation to atheism trends include:

  • homicide rates;
  • suicide rates;
  • gender equality;
  • poverty rates;
  • literacy rates;

and in all cases, the more well-off a country is in that category, the more likely it is to have a high non-believing population. At this point it brings me to mention another related global survey, conducted by Pew Global Attitudes Project. I have downloaded the graph here:

Wealth of Nation vs. Religiosity

The conclusion on the atheism trend is similar (note that Vietnam and United States defy the general trend). I think we can quite clear conclude that, despite the difficulties in getting statistically reliable data, wealthier nations tend to have a higher rate of atheist population. It must be stressed, however, that this correlation does not imply that one causes the other; it is simply a co-relation in its literal term.

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1. aurthurking - Thursday, May 3, 2007

The argument that one causes the other is not without reason though, as it is a well known fact that everyone trusts in *something* to take care of them, and in most cases if said person has a large amount of money they will inevitably trust their money to take care of them.

2. bachodi - Thursday, May 3, 2007

Wonderful compilation. I was interested to learn about India’s trend. Do you have any information ?

3. h3nry - Thursday, May 3, 2007

Hi bachodi, it seems like India is very religious – hence it isn’t even on that list… I quote the article here:

According to Norris and Inglehart (2004, 1998), 6% of those in India do not believe in God. According to a 2004 survey commissioned by the BBC, less than 3% of Indians do not believe in God.

4. 9Choirs: Everyone's a guru - Friday, May 11, 2007

[…] A self-proclaimed evolutionist writes about worldwide atheism trends, synopsizing work by Phil Zuckerman. Sweeden, Vietnam and Denmark have the greatest number of atheists, the blogger writes. […]

5. Cafe dog - Saturday, June 16, 2007

Interesting, provacative site here, but I, as an Agnostic, am tired of being lumped with Athiest.
I’m sure those who are Agnostic theist would agree.
There is a limitation on Knowing anything.
every action we take comes with Asumption with reasonable doubt.
Faith can be defined as belief with a confort level of “being wrong”.
Athiest believe that there is no God, but an Agnostic would point out they cannot truly know if there is no God
Uncertainy principle and Field theory in science provide a backing
for Agnostics.
At the end od the day, Many Athiests can be as Arrogant as Theists.
Thanks for the provactive site.

Austin 3:16 - Friday, December 21, 2012

Hey Cafe Dog, I don’t believe in God simply because I haven’t seen any evidence that substantiates a position that there is a God. And based on that I call myself atheist.

Is it possible that there’s a god of some kind out there somewhere – yes. But even acknowledging that possibility I’ll still call myself atheist.

6. Anders Gardebring - Monday, July 30, 2007

Myself I am confortable with being an ignostic.
That is, I don’t accept the question of existence of a “god” as a valid one, since “god” is a human invention without any verifiable empiric methods to test it. You might as well ask yourself if an invisible teacup is orbiting mars. Both are nonsense questions and can be ignored as such.
By the way, as a native Swede I find the figures in this survey very interesting indeed 🙂

7. Cafe dog - Thursday, August 2, 2007

Anders i am usually comfortable with my agnostism, however, once
and awhile, i want to know the answers to questions. it would make things simpler, sometimes, if we could know.

8. Jeremy - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I am so glad of being an atheist. Without atheism, I would hardly think clearly about anything in life. born and raised 18 years in a family that was completely religion-free, I can’t help but keep being a strong atheist even I came to US for studying and meet a lot of Christian friends.They are nice people but it doesn’t matter to my belief. Sometimes I felt struggle between friends and my own faith. Now I got what I believe in: my ancestor- people who share the blood with me are the one who will protected me. Not the one who I don’t even know a thing about.

9. bob - Monday, November 12, 2007

Surely Estonia should be higher on the list.

10. Guillaume - Friday, November 30, 2007

The real question would be : Is belief in God creating poverty, or poverty fostering belief in God ? I strongly believe the last to be true. When analysing the ratio of believers and non-believers in comparison with beliefs in those countries, it is very important to consider other factors. For example, the geographical position. Wouldn’t the quantity of natural ressources owned by a country have an effect on its overall wealth ? Compare the United States with Arabic countries. Both have a strong ratio of believers, but no need to argue over the comparative lack of natural resources of African countries. Many other factors – having little or nothing to do with belief in God – would also have to be analysed.

I have personaly come to believe in God – more today than ever before – at first because I’ve had my share of “trials” and wondered about a purpose in this life. When people are “forced” to be humble, they tend to look for a rope, a life preserver. This is quite normal. Those trials quickly disappeared after I took a chance and began to pray, attend church, etc. That was many years ago. I’m not attending church for the same reasons today. But it’s how it all started. And it is often the case for many. Now, in the light of my personal life, I can clearly see how trials, poverty or other major irritating events can lead people in those countries to believe in God. Some are taught to believe, and some are “forced” to. Today, back to school, and among the highest-ranked students of my university I could naturally tend to put my trust in no one but myself.

Though I sure hope I won’t.

11. music - Monday, January 7, 2008

very interesting.
i’m adding in RSS Reader

12. allprocard - Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Thank you, very match !!!
Pay attention, this site http://allprocard.com
Very interesting information.

13. auggiedoggy - Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I’m surprised that China isn’t higher on this list.

14. GregoDearlbab - Tuesday, October 7, 2008

h i. Can you help me? I trying to find an informttion about all states of America if you have some information about this, I will be glad to read it 🙂 Thanks for attention!
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15. gymnWheesee - Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cheers! Maybe someone know I can’t find a text about Great Britan if you have some information about this, I will be glad to read it 🙂 I will be grateful
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16. bbizbor - Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Поставте антиспам

17. George Perkins - Sunday, March 1, 2009

I agree a lot depends on how you define atheism. I think this article has some interesting commentary on how and why the term atheism has changed over time recently: http://www.conservapedia.com/Atheism

18. douglas - Monday, March 23, 2009

God or no God, is that the real question?

The need to know ….

homo sapiens – knowing man

we seek to know,

for knowledge to be complete three things are required – information, understanding and experience

so knowledge though being universally infinite is individually very limited.

The need to believe ….

Belief fills the gap between the universality of knowledge and our limitations.

What we don’t know we have to believe in

Civilisation requires organised belief

whether capitalism or Buddhism,

creating ‘isms is what civilised man has always been about

The need for God ….

God or Gods need not exist

Because believing itself is the essence

Without belief we are simply not human

Whether our belief is centred on one god or given to many gods is irrelevant

But to believe that there is no god is no belief at all

For belief by definition cannot be either true of false

It just is

Atheists believe also ….

Being human atheists believe

In the enduring compassion of mankind,

of natures ability to support us and all life,

of the joy in being alive

and in tomorrow.

Don’t you?

Then what is the argument really about?

andrew - Thursday, March 10, 2011

What a healthy and refreshing comment.You obviously have allready answered the hard question(-s) and have found a “jumpoffpoint”

My Q: I am tossing around some ideas, care to brainstorm idea’s we might share?

Let’s get infinitely multifaceted in our approach to improve humanity irreversibly.

19. Hermes - Saturday, May 23, 2009

I have to admit this site is really interesting!!!

But for a while now i have been wondering, aren’t agnostics rather skeptic? i mean agnostics tend to believe that there is nothing for certain in life…. ie. (according to David Hume) you cannot be sure of gravity, laws of physics etc. skeptics on the other hand don’t know…. isn’t that in some way the same thing….

As for the statistics, they are interesting…. but I’ve read on the BBC, that the major religion in North Korea is atheists, I was shocked to see that only 15% where atheists!!

Cafe Dog, what u said was truly interesting would like to hear more of u!!!

20. Tim Cinel - Monday, July 20, 2009

This excellent article puts my mind to rest – it makes sense to be Atheist.

21. Mona Pellerin - Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Atheists and agnostics require rationale and evidence. But, this requires tangible evidence either through math, observation or outcomes. Yet, we have many unanswered questions about the universe – how it originated, its actual age or its ultimate fate.
Even, without answers, the universe continues its dynamics with or without us. If randomness is the roots of all, it seems we would have suffered more ill fates rather than surviving for thousands or more years. Early humans living off the abundance of the earth were the first to feel gratitutde for something beyond themselves, yet, no one coerced them to believe or to be grateful. Could be modern humans take too much for granted and are blinded by their own abilities. It seems the more we know, the less we know which should keep us still wondering how this awesome universe ever became a possibility???

22. Paul AI - Friday, October 2, 2009

god is waste of ink all religions there a bunch of slaves they are a bunch mediocry slaves jaja go robe slaves fuck you god doesnt exist is just ink wste
Go atheist

23. Study: 25% of Spaniards Claim to be Atheist « Texas Freethought - Sunday, August 1, 2010

[…] As we have mentioned in previous posts, the world (with exceptions, of course) is going through a gradual shift towards a more secular world view. […]

24. surlamanem - Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Estonia 49% and Estonia 13% vwtf 🙂

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