The Age Gap in Religion Around the World (2023)

In the United States, religious congregations have been graying for decades, and young adults are now much less religious than their elders. Recent surveys have found that younger adults are far less likely than older generations to identify with a religion, believe in God or engage in a variety of religious practices.

But this is not solely an American phenomenon: Lower religious observance among younger adults is common around the world, according to a new analysis of Pew Research Center surveys conducted in more than 100 countries and territories over the last decade.

Although the age gap in religious commitment is larger in some nations than in others, it occurs in many different economic and social contexts – in developing countries as well as advanced industrial economies, in Muslim-majority nations as well as predominantly Christian states, and in societies that are, overall, highly religious as well as those that are comparatively secular.

For example, adults younger than 40 are less likely than older adults to say religion is “very important” in their lives not only in wealthy and relatively secular countries such as Canada, Japan and Switzerland, but also in countries that are less affluent and more religious, such as Iran, Poland and Nigeria.

While this pattern is widespread, it is not universal. In many countries, there is no statistically significant difference in levels of religious observance between younger and older adults. In the places where there is a difference, however, it is almost always in the direction of younger adults being less religious than their elders.

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Same pattern seen over multiple measures of religious commitment

Overall, adults ages 18 to 39 are less likely than those ages 40 and older to say religion is very important to them in 46 out of 106 countries surveyed by Pew Research Center over the last decade. In 58 countries, there are no significant differences between younger and older adults on this question. And just two countries – the former Soviet republic of Georgia and the West African country of Ghana – have younger adults who are, on average, more religious than their elders. (For theories about why younger adults often are less religious, see Chapter 1. For a discussion of some of these exceptions, see the sidebar in Chapter 2.)

Similar patterns also are found using three other standard measures of religious identification and commitment: affiliation with a religious group, daily prayer and weekly worship attendance.

In 41 countries, adults under 40 are significantly less likely than their elders to have a religious affiliation, while in only two countries (Chad and Ghana) are younger adults more likely to identify with a religious group. In 63 countries, there is no statistically significant difference in affiliation rates.

Younger adults are less likely to say they pray daily in 71 of 105 countries and territories for which Pew Research Center survey data are available, while they are more likely to pray daily in two countries (Chad and Liberia). And adults under 40 are less likely to attend religious services on a weekly basis in 53 of 102 countries; the opposite is true in just three countries (Armenia, Liberia and Rwanda).

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While the number of countries with a significant age gap shows how widespread this pattern is, it does not give a sense of the magnitude of the differences between older and younger adults on these measures.

In many countries, the gaps are relatively small. Indeed, the average gap between younger adults and older adults across all the countries surveyed is 5 percentage points for affiliation, 6 points for importance of religion, 6 points for worship attendance and 9 points for prayer.

But a substantial number of countries have much bigger differences. There are gulfs of at least 10 percentage points between the shares of older and younger adults who identify with a religious group in more than two dozen countries – mostly with predominantly Christian populations in Europe and the Americas. For example, the share of U.S. adults under age 40 who identify with a religious group is 17 percentage points lower than the share of older adults who are religiously affiliated. The gap is even larger in neighboring Canada (28 points). And there are double-digit age gaps in affiliation in countries as far flung as South Korea (24 points), Uruguay (18 points) and Finland (17 points).

A note on averages

To help make sense of an enormous pool of data, this report sometimes cites global averages of country-level data. In calculating the averages, each country is weighted equally, regardless of population size. Global averages, therefore, should be interpreted as the average finding among all countries surveyed, not as population-weighted averages representing all people around the world.

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Differences among regions, religions

Age gaps are more common in some geographic regions than others. For instance, in 14 out of 19 countries and territories surveyed in Latin America and the Caribbean, adults under age 40 are significantly less likely than their elders to say religion is very important in their lives. This is also the case in about half of the European countries surveyed (18 out of 35), and in both countries in North America (the U.S. and Canada; Mexico is included in the figures for Latin America).

On the other hand, in sub-Saharan Africa, where overall levels of religious commitment are among the highest in the world, there is no significant difference between older and younger adults in terms of the importance of religion in 17 out of 21 countries surveyed.

Age gaps are also more common within some religious groups than in others. For example, religion is less important to younger Christian adults in nearly half of all the countries around the world where sample sizes are large enough to allow age comparisons among Christians (37 out of 78). For Muslims, this is the case in about one-quarter of countries surveyed (10 out of 42). Among Buddhists, younger adults are significantly less religious in just one country (the United States) out of five countries for which data are available. There is no age gap by this measure among Jews in the U.S. or Israel, or among Hindus in the U.S. or India.1

Do age gaps mean the world is becoming less religious?

The widespread pattern in which younger adults tend to be less religious than older adults may have multiple potential causes. Some scholars argue that people naturally become more religious as they age; to others, the age gap is a sign that parts of the world are secularizing (i.e., becoming less religious over time). (For a detailed discussion of theories about age gaps and secularization, see Chapter 1.)

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But even if parts of the world are secularizing, it is not necessarily the case that the world’s population, overall, is becoming less religious. On the contrary, the most religious areas of the world are experiencing the fastest population growth because they have high fertility rates and relatively young populations.

Previously published projections show that if current trends continue, countries with high levels of religious affiliation will grow fastest. The same is true for levels of religious commitment: The fastest population growth appears to be occurring in countries where many people say religion is very important in their lives.

These are among the key findings of a new Pew Research Center analysis of surveys collected over the last decade in 106 countries. The data analyzed in this report come from 13 different Pew Research Center studies, including annual Global Attitudes Surveys as well as major studies on religion in sub-Saharan Africa; the Middle East and other countries with large Muslim populations; Latin America; the United States; Central and Eastern Europe; and Western Europe.

The number of countries analyzed varies by measure and type of comparison. While data are available for as many as 106 countries depending on the measure, the number of countries with reliable data on a particular religious group depends on the size of that group in each country’s sample. For example, there are sufficient data to gauge the importance of religion among Christians in 84 countries, and the sample sizes are large enough to compare responses among older and younger Christians in 78 of those 84 countries.

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Another limitation is that the measures of religious observance contained in many surveys around the world and analyzed in this report may not be equally suitable for all religious groups. In particular, rates of prayer and attendance at worship services are generally seen as reliable indicators of religious observance within Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Islam and Judaism), but they may not be as applicable for Buddhism, Hinduism and other Eastern religions. Because of these disparities, this report does not seek to compare levels of religious commitment between the world’s major religions (e.g., to compare Christians with Buddhists or Muslims). Rather, the primary focus is on age differences within religious groups and within countries or geographic regions (e.g., comparing younger Christians with older Christians, or younger Indonesians with older Indonesians).

This study, produced with funding from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation, is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, a broader effort to understand religious change, including the demographic patterns shaping religion around the world. Previous reports have focused on gender and religion, religion and education and population growth projections for major world religions.

The rest of this report looks in more detail at both age gaps in religious commitment (Chapter 2) and overall levels of religious commitment around the world (Chapter 3), by four standard measures: religious affiliation, importance of religion, attendance and prayer. Appendixes detail the methodology and sources used, and include tables that show each of the four measures for every country surveyed with data for overall levels of religious commitment, figures for adults over and under 40, age gaps for the total population and age gaps by religious group. But, first, Chapter 1 examines theories about why levels of religious observance vary so markedly across different age groups and different parts of the world.

FAQs

What are the ages of religions? ›

What is the Timeline of World Religions?
  • What is the Timeline of World Religions?
  • 2300 BCE to 1500 BCE - Hinduism.
  • 600 BCE to 500 BCE - Judaism.
  • 600 BCE to 400 BCE - Buddhism.
  • 1st Century CE - Christianity.
  • 7th Century CE - Islam.
  • 16th Century CE - Sikhism.

Why older people are more religious than younger people? ›

Older people are often more religious because: more aware of their own mortality; wanting to book a place in the afterlife. religious practice was more common when they were young and they were socialised to be religious in a way younger people are not.

Do older people become more religious as they age? ›

Many older adults have held onto their faith or may have even grown more religious as they age [22,32]. For example, Balboni et al. reported that as people's physical health decreases and they become more familiar with end of life and mortality, religiosity and spirituality increases [5].

Which is the oldest religion in the world? ›

The word Hindu is an exonym, and while Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit.

Who is the oldest god in the world? ›

Anu (Akkadian: 𒀭𒀀𒉡/a-nu ANU, from 𒀭 an “Sky”, “Heaven”) or Anum, originally An (Sumerian: 𒀭 An), was the divine personification of the sky, king of the gods, and ancestor of many of the deities in ancient Mesopotamian religion.

What was the religion of the age of reason? ›

While some of the leading Enlightenment figures were atheists, and others were Christians, the most distinctive religious attitude of the Enlightenment was Deism. Deists believed in a “god of nature” that created the universe but then left the universe to run by itself.

How does religion affect aging? ›

Religion may provide the following psychologic benefits: A positive and hopeful attitude about life and illness, which predicts improved health outcomes and lower mortality rates. A sense of meaning and purpose in life, which affects health behaviors and social and family relationships.

What effect does an aging population have on religion? ›

Aging of religious communities can affect how religious faith is expressed and which dimensions of religiosity that are emphasized. The role of religion can change over the life course in the context of fewer remaining years of life and increasing prevalence of disease (Idler, 2006; Vaupel, 2010).

Do people become less religious as they get older? ›

In many countries, there is no statistically significant difference in levels of religious observance between younger and older adults. In the places where there is a difference, however, it is almost always in the direction of younger adults being less religious than their elders.

What does God say about old age? ›

OLDER ADULTS ARE WISE

"Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old," says Job 12:12, reminding us of the value of speaking with older adults. 1 Kings 12:6 tells us that Solomon once sought the expertise of older men who helped him make important decisions about the kingdom of Israel.

Does age matter in the Bible? ›

The Bible does not have any specific ruling on minimum or maximum age. Marriage is a serious issue and a lifetime covenant between two people. And whether the man is older than the woman or vice versa, is not given much attention in the Bible.

Do religious people live longer? ›

Another study, published last year in PLOS One, found that regular service attendance was linked to reductions in the body's stress responses and even in mortality–so much so that worshippers were 55% less likely to die during the up to 18-year follow-up period than people who didn't frequent the temple, church or ...

Who is the father of all religions? ›

God is the father of humanity and the father of each religion.

How many religions are there? ›

It may surprise you to know that there are over 4,000 recognized religions in the world. These religions consist of churches, congregations, faith groups, tribes, cultures, and movements. Even though there are so many, three-quarters of the world's population practice one of the five major religions.

Who started religion? ›

Ancient (before AD 500)
Founder NameReligious tradition foundedLife of founder
Gautama BuddhaBuddhism563 BC – 483 BC
ConfuciusConfucianism551 BC – 479 BC
PythagorasPythagoreanismfl. 520 BC
MoziMohism470 BC – 390 BC
27 more rows

Who is the youngest god? ›

According to Philostratus the Elder, Hebe was the youngest of the gods.

Who is the first person of god? ›

ADAM1 was the first man. There are two stories of his creation. The first tells that God created man in his image, male and female together (Genesis 1: 27), and Adam is not named in this version.

Who created the first god? ›

Brahma the Creator

Brahma created the four types: gods, demons, ancestors, & men. In the beginning, Brahma sprang from the cosmic golden egg and he then created good & evil and light & dark from his own person.

Why is 7 called the age of reason? ›

The term “age of reason” was first described in a 1976 article by child psychiatrists Theodore Shapiro and Richard Perry titled "Latency Revisited: The Age of Seven, Plus or Minus One." But the age of seven has been considered the age where common sense and maturity start to kick in, for centuries.

Who called the age of reason? ›

The Age of Reason was a series of influential pamphlets written by Thomas Paine throughout the 1790s and into the early 1800s.

Why is it called the age of reason? ›

The Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, was an intellectual and cultural movement in the eighteenth century that emphasized reason over superstition and science over blind faith.

How does religion affect end of life? ›

An individual's religious beliefs may affect how they perceive death, the dying process, and the afterlife. Basic knowledge of how different religions view death may help clinicians better understand and respect patients' behaviors, goals of care, and treatment decisions near the end of life.

What are the impact of religion in society? ›

Religious practice promotes the well-being of individuals, families, and the community. Regular attendance at religious services is linked to healthy, stable family life, strong marriages, and well-behaved children.

How can religion affect growth? ›

The findings, published in the journal Religions, show that children raised in religious families tend to have enhanced social and psychological skills but may perform less well academically, compared to their non-religious peers.

What are the factors that affects religion? ›

Culture and the environment shape the child's religious perspective as well as contributing to other developmental aspects, and influence the awakening and development of religious belief. All observations agree that the influence of relatives is the most obvious factor in the formation of religious attitude.

How does religion affect population? ›

Religion influences the demographic processes that shape society, including decisions about union formation, childbearing and migration, as well as behaviors that affect mortality patterns. Likewise, demographic forces are reshaping the global religious landscape.

How many years did God say man will live? ›

Abstract. When mankind had become corrupted in the period preceding the flood, God said: 'My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh; his days shall be a hundred and twenty years' (Gen. 6:3).

Does God want us to live a long life? ›

Psalm 91:16 “WITH LONG LIFE I WILL SATISFY HIM, and shew him my salvation.” Long life is God's covenant heritage for all believers. Longevity is our irrevocable inheritance through the sacrifice of JESUS on the Cross. JESUS died young for us to live long.

What is the last age in the Bible? ›

While the exact age of the earth was a matter of biblical interpretive debate, it was generally agreed man was somewhere in the last and final thousand years, the Sixth Age, and the final Seventh Age could happen at any time. The world was seen as an old place, with more time in its past than its future.

How old was Mary when she married Joseph? ›

In fact, according to Jewish law and customs of the day, Mary and Joseph probably would have both been young when they married. “Girls were usually engaged sometime between the ages of 12 and 15, and would be married sometime thereafter, at 15 or 16, and boys would have been 19 or 20,” Fredriksen says.

How old was Mary from the Bible? ›

While unproven, some apocryphal accounts state that at the time of her betrothal to Joseph, Mary was 12–14 years old. According to ancient Jewish custom, Mary could have been betrothed at about 12. Her age during her pregnancy has varied up to 17 in apochyphal sources.

What the Bible says about dating? ›

The closer a man and woman are to God, the closer they are to each other.” “Dating tip: Run as fast as you can towards God. If someone keeps up, introduce yourself.” “I want a relationship where people look at us and say, you can tell God put them together.”

Which religion is more growing? ›

Statistics commonly measure the absolute number of adherents, the percentage of the absolute growth per-year, and the growth of converts in the world. Studies in the 21st century suggest that, in terms of percentage and worldwide spread, Islam is the fastest-growing major religion in the world.

Which religion will grow in the future? ›

Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. If current trends continue, by 2050 … The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.

Do Muslims live longer than Christians? ›

The life expectancy at birth was higher among o Christians 68.1 years (95% CI 66.44 - 69.60) than Muslims 66.0 years (95% CI 65.29 - 66.54) and Hindus 65.0 years (95% CI 64.74 -65.22).

Who is religious mother? ›

Hinduism - "mother of all religions"

What religion has many gods? ›

There are various polytheistic religions practiced today, for example; Hinduism, Shintoism, thelema, Wicca, druidism, Taoism, Asatru and Candomble.

Who started Christianity? ›

Christianity originated with the ministry of Jesus, a Jewish teacher and healer who proclaimed the imminent Kingdom of God and was crucified c. AD 30–33 in Jerusalem in the Roman province of Judea.

Is there only one God? ›

There is one God in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit. All three are separate, distinct and possessing specific roles while at the same time one God.

How many gods are there? ›

“The eight Vasus, the eleven Rudras, and the twelve Adityas–these are thirty-one, and Indra and Prajapati make up the thirty-three. ' Therefore, per the Brihandryaka Upanishad, there are a total of 3003 gods, but they are manifestations of 33 gods.

Do all religions believe in God? ›

Most religions, in some way, attempt to contemplate the divine; and some of them get closer than others. In this sense we can say that all religions lead to God.

Who create all the gods? ›

Brahma the creator

In the beginning, Brahma sprang from the cosmic golden egg and he then created good and evil and light and dark from his own person. He also created the four types: gods, demons, ancestors and men, the first of whom was Manu. Brahma then made all the other living creatures upon the earth.

What are the 7 world religions? ›

  • JUDAISM.
  • CHRISTIANITY.
  • ISLAM.
  • HINDUISM.
  • BUDDHISM.
  • SIKHISM.
  • ANIMISM.

Why do religions exist? ›

One idea is that, as humans evolved from small hunter-gatherer tribes into large agrarian cultures, our ancestors needed to encourage cooperation and tolerance among relative strangers. Religion then—along with the belief in a moralizing God—was a cultural adaptation to these challenges.

What is the order of the 5 major religions from oldest to youngest? ›

What are the 5 major religions in order from oldest to youngest? Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Jainism and Confucianism. What is the oldest religion in order? Hinduism is the oldest religion followed by Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Jainism and Confucianism.

What's Older Islam or Christianity? ›

According to religious historians, Islam was founded by Muhammad the Prophet around 622CE (Common Era), or about 1,382 years ago in Mecca. Christianity was founded by Jesus Christ approximately 1,971 (33CE) years ago.

What are the 3 types of religion? ›

Each religion forms its own beliefs and its own broader system of beliefs. These systems can be roughly grouped into three main categories: animism, polytheism, and monotheism. However, not all religions fit neatly into one of these three categories.

What religion began 4000 years ago? ›

Zoroastrianism is an ancient Persian religion that may have originated as early as 4,000 years ago. Arguably the world's first monotheistic faith, it's one of the oldest religions still in existence.

Who created the world? ›

According to Christian belief, God created the universe. There are two stories of how God created it which are found at the beginning of the book of Genesis in the Bible. Some Christians regard Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 as two totally separate stories that have a similar meaning.

What is the greatest religion? ›

Adherents in 2020
ReligionAdherentsPercentage
Christianity2.382 billion31.11%
Islam1.907 billion24.9%
Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist1.193 billion15.58%
Hinduism1.161 billion15.16%
18 more rows

How old is the Bible? ›

Much of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament may have been assembled in the 5th century BCE. The New Testament books were composed largely in the second half of the 1st century CE.

Who Wrote the Bible? ›

Even after nearly 2,000 years of its existence, and centuries of investigation by biblical scholars, we still don't know with certainty who wrote its various texts, when they were written or under what circumstances.

Which is older Bible or Quran? ›

Knowing that versions written in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament does predate the Quran, Christians reason the Quran as being derived directly or indirectly from the earlier materials. Muslims understand the Quran to be knowledge from an omnipotent God.

How many gods are there in the world? ›

Yajnavalkya said: “There are only 33 gods. These others are but manifestations of them.” In Hinduism there are said to be 330,000,000 gods.

How many religions exist? ›

It may surprise you to know that there are over 4,000 recognized religions in the world. These religions consist of churches, congregations, faith groups, tribes, cultures, and movements. Even though there are so many, three-quarters of the world's population practice one of the five major religions.

Who is god definition? ›

God : the supreme or ultimate reality: such as. : the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped (as in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism) as creator and ruler of the universe. Throughout the patristic and medieval periods, Christian theologians taught that God created the universe …

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