Belief in God is strongest in Catholic countries, especially in the developing world, while the U.S. maintains a high belief in God among developed Protestant-majority countries, a new study shows.
The report, from the General Social Survey of the social science research group NORC at the University of Chicago, drew on surveys in 30 countries. The surveys measured people’s range of beliefs, whether their beliefs have changed over their lifetime, and whether they believe that God is concerned with individuals.
“Countries with low atheism and high strong belief tend to be Catholic societies, especially in the developing world, plus the United States, Israel, and Orthodox Cyprus,” Tom W. Smith, director of the NORC General Social Survey, said in the report.
“In the case of Poland, it appears that its strong Catholicism trumps the secularizing influence of Socialism.”
In the predominantly Catholic Philippines, 84 percent of people are certain that God exists. About 60 percent are strong believers, while less than one percent are atheist.
In the United States, 61 percent are certain God exists, 35 percent are strong believers and three percent are atheist. Smith suggested that competition among religious denominations may account for American interest in religion.
Belief is increasing in Russia, Slovenia and Israel. Russia showed a 16 percent change in the numbers of people who once did not believe in God but now do.
The analysis also showed that belief in God grows with age, especially among those 58 years 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 April 18.
He noted that this difference in belief is not a “cohort effect” in which people continue the attitudes of their younger years.
The report also tracks a slow increase in the numbers of those who do not believe in God. There has been a gradual decline in belief in God around the world, though Smith said the declines are “quite modest” when calculated on an annual basis.
The surveys showed mixed trends in West Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Philippines, and the U.S. Some measures indicate a trend towards belief and others indicate a trend away from belief.
There was a “consistent decline” in belief in God in 10 of the countries surveyed: Australia, Austria, East Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway and Poland.
Atheism is strongest in northwest European countries, such as the Scandinavian countries, and in the former Soviet states except for Poland.
At 59 percent, the former East Germany had the highest rate of people who said they never believed in God.
Smith said it is possible that the small trend towards disbelief in God will have cumulative effects and spread more widely, but it is also possible that belief may make “more of a general rebound.”
He suggested this rebound could be caused by a response to a growth in feelings of insecurity, a nationalistic growth in religious identity, or from some other social source.