Religion Recent percentages of non-religious people in Europe by country

Maciamo

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Statistics about religious beliefs evolve surprisingly quickly. In the USA the number of non-religious people has been increasing steadily by about 1% per year in the last 20 years. The same trend can be seen in Europe, although religiosity has fallen much faster in some countries than others. People are not always consistent either, depending on how the questions in a religion survey are asked.

As I explained here, when asked about their belief in God, 86% of the Dutch respondents (Dutch nationals and foreign residents) declared that they didn't believe in God (atheist), that God's existence couldn't been proved either way (agnostics) or that they didn't believe in god or religion but that there must be something (ietsim). Yet, when asked about their religion affiliation only 68% said that they were unaffiliated, leaving a 14% gap - people who claimed to belong to a religion but didn't believe in God (probably cultural Christians for the most part).

I am going to try to find the most recent data for the percentage of non-religious people in European countries for which I can find reliable data on Wikipedia. Each country has a page "Religion in [country name]" and another called "Irreligion in [country name]" I have also used the surveys listed on Demographics of atheism.

UK

The United Kingdom probably has the most reliable data as it is based on the official government census (done once every 10 years), to which 97% of the adult population responded. The results are available on their website where an interactive map shows the percentage of people belonging to each religion and the percentage of non-religious people in every local authority (county, shire, or city) in England and Wales (there is a separate census for Scotland, but their website doesn't have the interactive map).

Germany

Germany also did an official census with detailed maps by districts showing the percentage of Protestants, Catholics and unaffiliated/non-religious, although I couldn't find what percentage of the population responded to the census.

Note about Nordic countries, Switzerland, Austria and Hungary

Nordic countries have officially very high percentages of Christians (59% in Sweden, 65% in Finland, 72.5% in Denmark, and 75% in Norway), but these are in great part cultural Christians and most of them do not believe in god. As mentioned on this page about irreligion in Norway, a partial explanation for the high membership [to the Church of Norway] is that by law all children who have at least one parent who is a member, automatically become members. It's similar in other Nordic countries and those stats do not reflect at all actual religious beliefs. Numerous surveys about belief in god were conducted over the last 10 years and all gave high percentages of atheists, agnostics, not religious and 'don't know'. That's why the percentages for these countries is indicated as a range. The official church affiliations also didn't match the actual beliefs in Austria, Hungary and Switzerland, so I reported it based on the surveys too.

Irreligion by country

Compiling the most recent data I could find, here are the percentages of non-religious people in each country. Irreligion includes (depending on the survey or census):
  • Atheists
  • Agnostics
  • Deists and Ietists ("believe in some sort of spirit or life force")
  • Unaffiliated
  • Non-religious
  • Don't know, don't care, undeclared, no answer given.

Alphabetical list

CountryIrreligionYear
Albania43%2016
Austria22% to 50%
Belgium41%2021
Bosnia4%2017
Bulgaria26 to 58%2021
Croatia10%2021
Czechia87.50%2021
Denmark43% to 80%
England & Wales42.70%2021
Estonia71% to 79%
Finland67%2010
France51%2021
Germany43.80%2022
Greece4% to 20%
Hungary43% to 54%
Ireland27%2021
Italy16%2021
Latvia31% to 59%
Lithuania20% to 49%
Netherlands86%2015
Norway31% to 72%
Poland27.5%2021
Portugal14%2021
Romania10%2021
Russia24% to 44%
Scotland51%2021
Serbia9%2022
Slovakia30.30%2021
Slovenia20% to 62%
Spain44.10%2023
Sweden46% to 85%
Switzerland34% to 50%
Ukraine12%2022


List sorted from least religious to most religious

I calculated the average percentage for countries with figures from several surveys.

CountryIrreligion
Czechia87.5%
Netherlands86.0%
Estonia75.0%
Finland67.0%
Sweden65.5%
Denmark61.5%
Norway51.5%
France51.0%
Scotland51.0%
Hungary48.5%
Latvia45%
Spain44.1%
Germany43.8%
Albania43%
England & Wales42.7%
Switzerland42.0%
Bulgaria42%
Belgium41.0%
Slovenia41.0%
Austria36.0%
Lithuania34.50%
Russia34%
Slovakia30.3%
Poland27.5%
Ireland27.0%
Italy16.0%
Portugal14.0%
Greece12.0%
Ukraine12.0%
Romania10.0%
Croatia10%
Serbia9%
Bosnia4%


Most countries in Western, Central and Northern Europe have between 41% and 61% of non-religious people. The average of non-religious people is 64% in Nordic countries, 51.5% in Baltic countries, 45% in Western Europe (from Germany, Austria and Italy to the east to Ireland and Portugal to the west), 44.6% in Central Europe (Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland, Czechia and Slovakia), and 15.5% in the Balkans (Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Albania, Greece).

The least religious countries are:
  • the Czech Republic where only 11% of the population are Christians and 87.5% of non-religious (the rest being minority religions)
  • the Netherlands, which nominally has 30% Christians (in 2015), 5% of Muslims and 2% of Hindus (mostly Surinamese of Indian descent), but only 14% of Theists (god believers). As we can assume that almost all the Muslims and Hindus are theists, that leaves just about 7% of real Christians who believe in god. What's more, the data for the Netherlands is several years older than for most countries, so the real figure is certainly even lower than that for Christians (probably around 5%).

Religious hold-outs

The most religious countries in Europe are all found in the Balkans/Carpathians: Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Greece, Romania and Ukraine, where only 4 to 12% of the population are not religious today.

Three countries in Western Europe also stand out for their low percentage of non-religious people: Portugal (14%) and Italy (15%). Ireland and Poland used to be in that group too until about 20 years ago, but the percentage of unaffiliated or irreligious has increased quickly in recent years (e.g. from 13% in 2015 to 27.5% in 2021 in Poland).

The question is why hasn't religious affiliation fallen in these two countries like in the rest of Europe? One explanation is that Portugal and the south of Italy are poorer, but other countries with similar GDP per capita and education levels like Baltic countries, Hungary or Slovakia are substantially less religious.

I can't find any good explanation for northern Italy. However it seems that religiosity tends to be higher in general around the Alps, at least among Catholics (if we check the data for Switzerland and southern Germany, which have both Protestants and Catholics). I am actually shocked by the extremely low percentage of non-religious people in some German states (Bavaria, Rhineland-Palatinate, Lower Saxony), which is at the same level as the Balkans or Ukraine!

Ipsos has done surveys about religiosity in Italy from 2007 to 2017 and found that it gradually diminished from 85.4% in 2007 to 75.4% in 2017. That's exactly 1% less every year, so following this trend is should be around 68% in 2024.

Furthermore the data for Italy is the national average, but there are substantial regional variations. I couldn't find the regional breakdown for the non-religious, but I could for Catholics and it is clear that the North is less religious than the South. In the North-West non-religious are on a par with Catholics.

1715158102734.png
 
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I have made a map showing the percentage of irreligious people in Europe based on the data above. It would be interesting to have regional data for France and Spain, but I couldn't find any.

1715159193035.png
 

This graphic comes from Wikipedia. Right, Maciamo?

It is based on a survey published in 2019 on a sample of a thousand Italians, commissioned by the "Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics," these are not official statistics. A poll was done by the same people in 2014, with very different data, although it showed a similar pattern. These are data that should be taken with great caution, they are not official statistics. I guess a new one might come out in 2024

The 2014 survey

xjaLfmd.jpeg



The 2019 survey

9Yur8II.png
 
This graphic comes from Wikipedia. Right, Maciamo?

It is based on a survey published in 2019 on a sample of a thousand Italians, commissioned by the "Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics," these are not official statistics. A poll was done by the same people in 2014, with very different data, although it showed a similar pattern. These are data that should be taken with great caution, they are not official statistics. I guess a new one might come out in 2024

The 2014 survey

xjaLfmd.jpeg



The 2019 survey

9Yur8II.png

Thanks for clearing this up. Most surveys about religion have similar sample sizes. Few countries conduct censuses across the whole population. Britain, Germany and Italy are among the few that do.

I'm not surprised to see that religiosity has decreased by several percentage points from 2014 to 2019 in Italy. I say explained above the percentage of non-religious people tend to increase in average by 1% per year in most Western countries. In countries where religiosity was particularly high like Ireland and Poland the percentage of non-affiliated increased two or three times faster in the last 10 years or so. It may also be the case for Italy (at least northern Italy). It's possible that the figures for non-religious people in the two surveys you mentioned are a bit inflated because surveys tend to be done in cities where people are generally less religious than in the countryside.

However the Italian article on religion in Italy on Wikipedia cites five different surveys (apart from the census) and they all shows that religiosity has been decreasing in recent years.

It is especially since the rise of the Internet that religiosity has been declining across the developed world. There are several reasons for that. One is that people can learn more about a variety of subjects that they had no access to before. The second reason is that people xan now easily communicate with other people from very different background from them, be it on forums like this one or on social media. Ideas spread more quickly, opinions can be shared with large group of people. It's also easier to argue about sensitive topics while keeping one's anonymity, so that people who would not have been comfortable discussing religion with close friends or relatives can now do it with anybody they want online.

Serious subjects are better discussed in front of a PC rather than on a smartphone. It is telling that the percentage of people owning a computer is substantially lower in countries like Italy (especially the South I suppose), Portugal, Romania, Ukraine and the Balkans than in the rest of Europe. There is a surprisingly good correlation between computer ownership rates and low religiosity. Just look at Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, three countries with a similar GDP per capita and a long shared history (under Russian/Soviet rule). Estonia is the least religious and Lithuania the most. Spain was historically poorer than Italy, but nowadays Spaniards are more likely to own a computer and also to be non-religious. Ditto if you compare the Netherlands to Belgium, or Britain to Ireland.

1715240983654.png

Of course a computer is useless for online discussions without an Internet connection. Nowadays most people are connected to the Internet, but there are still considerable gaps. Ireland is now the richest country in Europe after Luxembourg in GDP per capita (both nominal and at PPP) thanks to the numerous American tech companies that set up their EU HQ there. But despite being a tech hub with companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Ebay, Intel, IBM, Adobe, Oracle, etc., Ireland has the lowest percentage (80% in 2021) of Internet users in Western Europe and one of the lowest in the EU, lower than Portugal (85%), Latvia (85%) and on a par with Lithuania. In the EU only Greece, Bulgaria and Romania do worse. Whatever the cause and effect, it's a fact that the Irish are still more religious than most other EU country (except notably Romania and Greece).

1715241508442.png


In Italy there is the usual north-south gradient for Internet users too. According to Istat:

L’analisi territoriale conferma il gradiente Nord-Sud. Il Trentino-Alto Adige (88,9%) ela Lombardia (86,1%) sono le regioni con la percentuale più alta di famiglie connesse a Internet;all’opposto si collocano la Puglia (78,2%), la Basilicata (77,5%) e la Calabria (73,6%)

So the south of Italy has a similar percentage of Internet users to Greece (76%), while Trentino-Alto Adige is like Spain and Luxembourg.
 
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I have made a map showing the percentage of irreligious people in Europe based on the data above. It would be interesting to have regional data for France and Spain, but I couldn't find any.

View attachment 16178
Albania, the tower of non-religiosity in the middle of extreme religiosity neighbors.
 

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