Developed Countries May Become More Religious in Twenty Years

Researchers from HSE University and RANEPA found that in high-income countries, age, rather than the cohort effect, has more impact on religiosity. They predict that this may have an impact on societal structure in the future. The study was published in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

It has long been observed that older people tend to be more religious than younger people. However, it is still disputable whether this fact should be attributed to people generally becoming more religious with age per se (age effect), or to the process of secularization, wherein earlier cohorts (to which the now older people belong) used to be more religious than those that appeared later, i.e. younger cohorts (cohort effect). HSE University scholars decided to analyze this issue using data from six waves of the World Values Survey (2016) in high-income OECD countries. A total of 16 countries were studied, including Australia, the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Israel, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, as well as other European countries.

The researchers used logistic models and multiple linear regression to determine that the age effect has a higher impact on religiosity than the cohort effect. Older people are more inclined to believe in God, attend church, and believe it is important to instill religion in children.. The cohort effect impacts other factors analyzed by the scholars, such as church attendance and a belief in religion’s importance in life, but the age effect still strongly prevails over the cohort effect.

These research results are very important for predicting the future structure of society. Many previous studies have shown that global ageing is spreading across the world, particularly in high-income countries. This recent research suggests that that population ageing can possibly slow down the transition from religious to secular values, a phenomenon earlier described by Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel. Nowadays, older people (aged 50+) constitute almost one-half of the adult (aged 20+) population of developed countries, and this proportion will increase to constitute a significant majority by 2040.

‘That is why, it is mainly in the developed countries that global aging may have the most pronounced effect on slowing down the transition from religious to secular values or, possibly, even on some increase in religiosity,’ says Andrey Korotaev, one of the study authors and Head of the Laboratory for Monitoring the Risks of Socio-Political Destabilization. ‘For example, Japan is known to be one of the countries most affected by ageing, so probably it is not a mere coincidence that a number of important indicators reveal a slowdown of secularization trends and even a certain resurgence of religiosity in this country.’

The transition from religious to secular values may slow by 2040 in high-income OECD countries and, probably, there will be a resurgence of religiosity, the symptoms of which can be observed in Japan.  On the other hand, widely divergent socio-cultural settings in different countries have an impact on religious behavior and attitude, and this must be taken into account in further research.