Belief in God strongest in US and Catholic countries, surveys find

April 18th, 2012 in Other Sciences / Social Sciences

International surveys about the depth of people's belief in God reveal vast differences among nations, ranging from 94 percent of people in the Philippines who said they always believed in God, compared to only 13 percent of people in the former East Germany. Yet the surveys found one constant—belief in God is higher among older people, regardless of where they live.

A new report on the international surveys, "Belief About Across Time and Countries," was issued by the General of the social science research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. It is based on a comprehensive, international study of belief in God and includes information from the International Social Survey Program, a consortium of the world's leading opinion survey organizations. Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey, wrote the report.

The data came from 30 countries in which surveys about belief in God have been taken at least twice, in some cases, since 1991. Researchers asked questions to determine people's range of beliefs, from atheism to strong belief in God; their changing beliefs over their lifetime; and their attitude toward the notion that God is concerned with individuals.

Belief in God varies widely across nations, cultures

Countries with the strongest belief in God tended to be Catholic societies, especially in the developing world, such as the Philippines. The people of the stood out for their high in belief in God among developed countries with large Protestant populations.

Competition among denominations may account for that interest in religion, Smith said.

The surveys found:

"Belief in God has decreased in most countries, but the declines are quite modest especially when calculated on a per annum basis," Smith said.

The constant: Belief in God grows with age

Belief is highest among older adults. On average, 43 percent of those aged 68 and older are certain that God exists, compared with 23 percent of those 27 and younger, according to the report.

"Looking at differences among age groups, the largest increases in belief in God most often occur among those 58 years of age and older. This suggests that belief in God is especially likely to increase among the oldest groups, perhaps in response to the increasing anticipation of mortality," Smith said.

He noted that the higher level of belief was not simply a cohort effect, in which people carry forward attitudes shaped in younger years.

In the United States, for instance, 54 percent of people younger than 28 said they were certain of God's existence, compared with 66 percent of the people 68 and older.

In countries with low overall , the difference in belief between age groups is also strong. In France, for example, 8 percent of younger people said they were certain that God exists, compared with 26 percent of the people 68 and older. In Austria, 8 percent of the younger generation said they were certain in their , while 32 percent of people 68 and older were confident of God's existence.

The surveys were taken in 1991, 1998 and 2008. These are the included in the survey: Australia, Austria, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Rep, Denmark, France, Germany (East), Germany (West), Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Israel , Italy, Japan, Latvia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, The , Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States.

Provided by University of Chicago

"Belief in God strongest in US and Catholic countries, surveys find." April 18th, 2012. http://phys.org/news/2012-04-belief-god-strongest-catholic-countries.html