Despite concerns about secularization, the world’s population may not be losing its religion quite so fast.
Like in the US, young adults around the globe are generally less devout than their elders, especially in Western Europe and Latin America; however, in other regions, many countries have resisted that trend, welcoming new generations of just-as-eager Christians and Muslim believers, according to a Pew Research Center report released today.
Of the 106 countries in the report, more than half (58 nations) show little or no age gap in religious commitment. In the rest (46 nations), adults under 40 were significantly less likely than their elders to consider religion very important.
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.
Biggest age gaps
Worldwide, 90 percent of adults over the age of 40 affiliate with a religious tradition, compared to 85 percent of those under 40, Pew reported.
“Although the age gap in religious commitment is larger in some nations than in others, it occurs in many different economic and social contexts,” the researchers wrote, “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.”
In North America and Western Europe, where secularization has accelerated the most, the difference in religious affiliation between today’s young adults and their elders is pretty stark—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.
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).
Though adults in the United States are about twice as likely (53%) as those in Canada (27%) to describe religion as very important in their lives, the US isn’t much further down the list. Its age gap in religious affiliation is 17 percentage points.
More faithful youth
While the Americas and much of Europe showcase the religious contrast between young and old, the Middle East and Africa see little, if any, difference in affiliation across age groups. They’re also the regions where religious commitment is strongest in the first place.
Two majority Christian countries represent the biggest exceptions to the religious age gap seen around the globe. 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.
For example, 91 percent of Ghanaians under 40, compared to 85 percent of older Ghanaians, named religion is very important in their lives.
In three other African nations—Liberia, Rwanda, and Chad—and the Orthodox Christian state of Armenia, young adults claim their religious affiliation, attend services, and commit to daily prayer at higher rates than their parents and grandparents. Liberia, Rwanda, and Armenia are mostly Christian, while Chad is majority-Muslim, with a significant Christian minority of over 40 percent.
Ghana and Chad are the only two countries where young adults are more likely than their elders to identify with their religion.
Liberia and Chad are the only ones where they pray more often, by 12 percent and 6 percent, respectively. (Meanwhile, adults under 40 are around a quarter less likely to pray than their elders in countries such as Japan, Poland, Slovakia, and Portugal.)
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Source: Christianity Today