Christianity Today Reports on Age Gap in Religion Around the World

by | June 13, 2018


By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Christianity Today reported on the recent Pew Research report. The report from the Pew Research Center indicated a “gap” in the age between the believers and the non-believers.

That is to say, on one binary face value metric – old and young, the old seem more religious than the young. They identify as more religious and take part in more of the standard suggested practices of religion.

The secularization of the world seems like a concern for the religions of the world, especially the largest ones’ leadership. It would seem to mean wanes in power and influence and potential new followers. In the United States, Western Europe, and Latin America, the young adults appear far less religious than the older generations.

The Pew Research Center looked into 106 countries in the new report with about 58 nations having “little or no age gap in religious commitment.” Of the remainder, 46 of them at least, the adults under the age of 40 showed a significantly lower level of religious commitment or considering religion important than their older or over 40 counterparts.

Christianity Today explained, “Particularly religious countries with higher population growth tend to maintain religious belief and commitment between young and old generations. Pew found that over the past decade these highly religious countries outpaced their less religious counterparts due to high fertility rates and disproportionately young populations, factors often tied to their level of development.”

In the international analysis, the economic and social environment in a country affected the level of religiosity, in both the developing countries and the advanced industrial economies. With North America and Western Europe, the most secularization appears to have taken place.

Those parts of the world show a “pretty stark” difference in the formal religious affiliation of the young and the old. It becomes “two to five times wider than the global age gap. Canada has the biggest generational religious divide in the world. The difference between Canadian young adults and their elders who affiliate with a particular religion is 28 percentage points.”

That makes Canada an outlier in the religious affiliation gap between the young and the old. Other countries were included in the analysis and worth mention in the Christianity Today article.

“Other top countries for gaps in religious affiliation include Denmark (26 percentage points), South Korea (24 percentage points), Australia (23 percentage points), and Norway and Sweden (both 20 percentage points),” the reportage stated.

The US young adult population identify the role of religion in their lives as twice as important as the Canadian young adult population. I do not know how this maps onto the forms of the informal non-religious seen in Canada with the – what the literature calls – SBNRs or the “spiritual but not religious” people.

SBNRs seem to, at times, engage in informal activities outside of a formal religious context with religious overtones, or simply sub-texts, to them. In contrast to the Americas and Europe in general, Africa and the Middle East show different contrasts in religious affiliation by age.

The Middle East and Africa do not show much difference in religious affiliation between generations. Religious commitment remains strongest there.

“Two majority Christian countries represent the biggest exceptions to the religious age gap seen around the globe,” Christianity Today explained, “In Ghana, a relatively stable country in West Africa, and Georgia, a former Soviet republic, today’s young people are more likely than older generations to say religion is ‘very important’ in their lives, the report stated.”

If you compare the under 40 Ghanaians and the over 40 Ghanaians, the numbers emerge as 91% to 85%, respectively. In Chad, Liberia, and Rwanda, the young “claim their religious affiliation, attend services, and commit to daily prayer at higher rates than their parents and grandparents.”

A common theme in these countries comes from the threat of violent conflict. If a violent conflict is present, people seem more religious. The “existential insecurity” seems to correlate, positively, with more religiosity. If more risk to life and limb, then more religion.

“In predominantly Christian countries, it’s whether they consider religion a priority; the greatest generational discrepancies emerge over the question of religion’s importance in their lives,” Christianity Today explained, “In predominantly Muslim countries, it’s a question of mosque attendance. Even in countries where religiosity remains steady across age groups, young people still tend to be less likely to pray daily.”

The countries with the majority of citizens adhering to or identifying as Christian show the highest levels of decrease in religiosity. It shows in the other main Abrahamic faith, Islam, but not as severe in terms of the decrease.

The reportage said, “As noted, the countries with the greatest percentage of people who say religion is “very important” in their lives—mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Central America—are also among the fastest-growing countries in the world.”

It continued to note. The Pew Research Center Report explained a negative correlation between the level of commitment to religion and the markers for the economic and social development of a country. That is, education levels, GDP, and income equality negatively associated with or negatively correlate with religious commitment. If poorer, less educated, with higher income inequality, then the countries’ citizens will adhere more to a faith.

The one outlier in this is the United States of America. Unique in its high level of development and high religiosity.

As noted in the article, out of the 102 nations analyzed by the Pew Research Center, only the United States showed higher levels of daily prayer. In fact, it had above-average levels of prayer. In conclusion, it was higher in other measures of its citizens’ level of religious commitment too.

External to the United States as an outlier example, religion correlates with poverty, lack of education, and greater divides between the poor and the rich.

Moral of the story, and to policymakers: if someone wants to increase religiosity or religious commitment, they would construct policy to increase income inequality, decrease educational access and success, and increase the quantity of the poor; if someone wants to decrease religious commitment, and so increase secularization, they would become policy architects oriented to increase educational achievement, attainment, and completion, and decrease income inequality and the quantity of the citizenry below or in the poverty lines.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:

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