Demographics of atheism

Studies on the demographics of atheism have concluded that self-identified atheists comprise anywhere from 2% to 13% of the world's population, whereas people without a religion comprise anywhere from 10% to 22% of the world's population.[1][2][3][4] According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, 2% of the world's population self-identifies as atheist and the average annual global change for atheism from 2000 to 2010 was −0.17%.[5] Several polls have been conducted by Gallup International: in their 2012 poll of 57 countries, 13% of respondents were "convinced atheists" and in their 2015 poll of 65 countries 11% were "convinced atheists".[4][6] In Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands and East Asia, and particularly in China, atheists and the nonreligious are the majority.[6] Of the global atheist and nonreligious population, 76% reside in Asia and the Pacific, while the remainder reside in Europe (12%), North America (5%), Latin America and the Caribbean (4%), sub-Saharan Africa (2%) and the Middle East and North Africa (less than 1%).[3] The prevalence of atheism in Africa and South America typically falls below 10%.[6] According to Pew Research Center's 2012 global study of 230 countries and territories, 16% of the world's population is not affiliated with a religion, while 84% are affiliated.[7] Furthermore, the global study noted that many of the unaffiliated, which include atheists and agnostics, still have various religious beliefs and practices.[3]

Historical records of atheist philosophy span several millennia. Atheistic schools are found in early Indian thought and have existed from the times of the historical Vedic religion.[8] Western atheism has its roots in pre-Socratic Greek philosophy, but did not emerge as a distinct world-view until the late Enlightenment.[9]

Discrepancies exist among sources as to how atheist and religious demographics are changing. Social scientific assessment of the extent of "atheism" in various populations is problematic. First, in most of the world outside of East Asia most populations are believers in either a monotheistic or polytheistic system. Consequently, questions to assess non belief often take the form of any negation of the prevailing belief rather than an assertion of positive atheism and these will then be accounted accurately to rising "atheism".[10][11][12] According to the 2012 Gallup International survey, the number of atheists is on the rise across the world, with religiosity generally declining.[13] However, other global studies have indicated that global atheism may be in decline due to irreligious countries having the lowest birth rates in the world and religious countries having higher birth rates in general.[14]

Studies and statistics

The demographics of atheism are substantially difficult to quantify. Different people interpret atheism and related terms differently, and it can be hard to draw boundaries between atheism, nonreligious beliefs, and nontheistic religious and spiritual beliefs. Furthermore, atheists may not report themselves as such, to prevent suffering from social stigma, discrimination, and persecution in some countries.[15]

Because some governments have strongly promoted atheism and others have strongly condemned it, atheism may be either over-reported or under-reported for different countries. There is a great deal of room for debate as to the accuracy of any method of estimation, as the opportunity for misreporting (intentionally or not) a category of people without an organizational structure is high. Also, many surveys on religious identification ask people to identify themselves as "agnostics" or "atheists", which is potentially confusing, since these terms are interpreted differently, with some identifying themselves as being agnostic atheists. Additionally, many of these surveys only gauge the number of irreligious people, not the number of actual atheists, or group the two together. For example, research indicates that the fastest growing religious status may be "no religion" in the United States, but this includes all kinds of atheists, agnostics, and theists.[16][17] Non-religious people make up 9.66%, while one fifth of them are atheists.[2]

Statistical problems

Statistics on atheism are often difficult to represent accurately for a variety of reasons. Atheism is a position compatible with other forms of identity. Some atheists also consider themselves Agnostic, Buddhist, Hindu, Jains, Taoist, or hold other related philosophical beliefs. Some, like Secular Jews and Shintoists, may indulge in some religious activities as a way of connecting with their culture, all the while being atheist. Therefore, given limited poll options, some may use other terms to describe their identity. Some politically motivated organizations that report or gather population statistics may, intentionally or unintentionally, misrepresent atheists. Survey designs may bias results due to the nature of elements such as the wording of questions and the available response options. Statistics are generally collected on the assumption that religion is a categorical variable. Instruments have been designed to measure attitudes toward religion, including one that was used by L. L. Thurstone. This may be a particularly important consideration among people who have neutral attitudes, as it is more likely that prevailing social norms will influence the responses of such people on survey questions that effectively force respondents to categorize themselves either as belonging to a particular religion or belonging to no religion. A negative perception of atheists and pressure from family and peers may also cause some atheists to disassociate themselves from atheism. Misunderstanding of the term may also be a reason some label themselves differently.

For example, a Canadian poll released September 12, 2011 sampled 1,129 Canadian adults and collected data on the numbers of declared atheists.[18] These numbers conflicted with the latest Canadian census data that pre-supposed that a religious affiliation predisposed a belief in a deity and was based on a poorly worded question. A quote from the study:

The data also revealed some interesting facts about Canadians' beliefs:

  • A majority (53%) of Canadians believe in God. What is of particular interest is that 28% of Protestants, 33% of Catholics, and 23% of those who attend weekly religious services do not.
  • One quarter (23%) of those with no religious identity still believe in a God.[19]

Personality profiles

Michael Newdow speaks at the Atheist Alliance International Convention. Members of secular groups are very likely to be atheists, but also more willing to hold unpopular views and explore new ideas thoroughly.

A study on personality and religiosity found that members of secular organizations (like the international Center for Inquiry) have similar personality profiles to members of religious groups. This study found that members of secular organizations are very likely to label themselves primarily as "atheists", but also very likely to consider themselves humanists.[20] It was also found that secular group members show no significant differences in their negative or positive affect. The surveyed individuals also had similar profiles for conscientiousness (discipline or impulse control, and acting on values like "pursuit of truth"). Secular group members tended to be less agreeable (e.g. more likely to hold unpopular, socially challenging views), as well as more open minded (e.g. more likely to consider new ideas) than members of religious groups. Luke Galen, a personality researcher, writes "Many previously reported characteristics associated with religiosity are a function not of belief itself, but of strong convictions and group identification."[20][21] Catherine Caldwell-Harris notes that "non-believers" are interested in social justice concerns and posits that this is due to their lack of belief in an afterlife, leading to a focus on what can be fixed here and now.[22] Another study by Caldwell-Harris describes atheists as being capable of experiencing awe, which she states debunks stereotypes of atheists as "cynical and joyless".[23] A 2014 study created six different personality profiles of 'types' of nonbelievers and compared them to Big Five personality traits.[24]

In a global study on atheism, sociologist Phil Zuckerman noted that countries with higher levels of atheism also had the highest suicide rates compared to countries with lower levels of atheism. He concludes that correlations does not necessarily indicate causation in either case.[25] A study on depression and suicide suggested that those without a religious affiliation have a higher suicide attempt rates than those with a religious affiliation.[26] A study into mental well-being in religious and non-religious people found that mental well-being for both religious people and non-religious people hinged on the certainty of their belief, and that previous studies had not controlled for the effect of belonging to a group when studying churchgoers.[27] Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi regarded atheists in Western society to be "much more likely to be a man, married, with higher education", and regarded the personality of atheists to be "less authoritarian and suggestible, less dogmatic, less prejudiced, more tolerant of others, law-abiding, compassionate, conscientious, and well educated. They are of high intelligence, and many are committed to the intellectual and scholarly life".[28] A review of the literature found that being non-religious did not necessarily entail poorer mental health.[29]

Geographic distribution

Though atheists are in the minority in most countries, they are relatively common in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, East Asia and present communist states. It is difficult to determine actual atheist numbers. Furthermore, the conflation of terms such as atheist, agnostic, non-religious and non-theist add to confusion among poll data.

A 2002 survey by, estimates that the proportion of the world's people who are "secular, non-religious, agnostics and atheists" at about 14%.[30]

A 2004 survey by the BBC in 10 countries showed the proportion of the population "who don't believe in God" varying between 0% (Nigeria) and 39% (UK), with an average close to 17% in the countries surveyed, however, 8% of the respondents specifically stated that they consider themselves to be "atheists". Diversity was observed in the views of atheists including that "across the entire sample, almost 30% of all atheists surveyed said they sometimes prayed."[1] 65% of those polled in a 2011 survey by the British Humanist Association answered no to the question "Are you religious?"[31]

A 2004 survey by the CIA in the World Factbook estimates about 12.5% of the world's population are non-religious, and about 2.4% are atheists.[32]

A 2005 poll by AP/Ipsos surveyed ten countries. Of the developed nations, people in the United States were "most sure" of the existence of God or a higher power (2% atheist, 4% agnostic), while France had the most skeptics (19% atheist, 16% agnostic). On the religion question, South Korea had the greatest percentage without a religion (41%) while Italy had the smallest (5%).[33]

A 2010 Pew Research global study found that 16 percent of the global population to be unaffiliated with a religion, however, Pew notes that "more than three-quarters of the religiously unaffiliated live in Asia, the majority in China. Many of the people in this group do hold some religious or spiritual beliefs and may even believe in a deity, but they do not identify with a particular faith."[3] Of the global atheist and nonreligious population, 76% reside in Asia and the Pacific, while the remainder reside in Europe (12%), North America (5%), Latin America and the Caribbean (4%), sub-Saharan Africa (2%) and the Middle East and North Africa (less than 1%).[3] According to the same survey, the religiously unaffiliated are the majority of the population only in two European countries: Czech Republic (75%) and Estonia (60%).[34] There are another four countries where the unaffiliated make up a majority of the population: North Korea (71%), Japan (57%), Hong Kong (56%), and China (52%).[34]

Sociologist Phil Zuckerman's global studies on atheism have indicated that global atheism may be in decline due to irreligious countries having the lowest birth rates in the world and religious countries having higher birth rates in general.[14]

A Pew 2015 global projection study for religion and nonreligion projects that between 2010 and 2050 there will some initial increases of the unaffiliated followed by a decline by 2050 due to lower global fertility rates among this demographic.[35]

In terms of the United States, a 2012 Pew report showed that 32% of people under 30, 21% of people between the ages of 30-49, 15% of people between the ages of 50-64 and 9% of people over the age of 65 could be characterized as religiously unaffiliated. However, 68% of all the unaffiliated expressed belief in God and out of the whole US population, only 2.4% self identified as "atheist".[36]

A 2013 poll by UPI/Harris showed that three-quarters of U.S. adults say they believe in God, down from 82 percent in 2005, 2007 and 2009. Just under 2-in-10 U.S. adults described themselves as very religious, with an additional 4-in-10 describing themselves as somewhat religious down from 49 percent in 2007. Twenty-three percent of Americans identified themselves as not at all religious, nearly double the 12 percent reported in 2007.[37]

The 2015 Pew Religious Landscape survey reported that as of 2014, 22.8% of the American population is religiously unaffiliated, atheists made up 3.1% and agnostics made up 4% of the US population.[38]

A survey based on a self-selected sample of biological and physical scientists of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States found that 7% believed in the existence of God, 72.2% did not, and 20.8% were agnostic or had doubts.[39] Eugenie Scott argued that there are methodological issues in the study, including ambiguity in the questions. A study on leading scientists in the US, with clearer wording and allowing for a broader concept of "god", concluded that 40% of prominent scientists believe in god.[40]

In 1916, 1,000 leading American scientists were randomly chosen from American Men of Science and 41.8% believed God existed, 41.5% disbelieved, and 16.7% had doubts/did not know; however when the study was replicated 80 years later using American Men and Women of Science in 1996, results were very much the same with 39.3% believing God exists, 45.3% disbelieved, and 14.5% had doubts/did not know.[41]


Main article: Irreligion in Africa


Main article: Irreligion in Egypt

Irreligion in Egypt is uncommon among Egyptians and Islam is the predominant faith. There are no official figures for irreligion, and there is media speculation that younger people are leaving Islam.[42][43][44] In November 2013, it was estimated that up to 3 million Egyptians were atheists.[45]


Main article: Irreligion in Ghana

Atheism in Ghana is difficult to measure in the country, as although many citizens claim Christian faith,[46] many atheists in Ghana are afraid to openly express their lack of belief due to real or imagined threats of intimidation.[47]

In the Ghana census taken in 2010, Christians make up 71.2% of the population, Islam 17.6%, Irreligion 5.3%, Traditional religion 5.2%.[48] Other faiths include Hinduism, Buddhism and Nichiren Buddhism, Taoism, Sōka Gakkai, Shintoism and Judaism.


Eastern Asia

East Asian cultures define religion differently from those in the West, making classification of certain adherents of Buddhism and Taoism particularly difficult, as belief in gods is generally absent in principle in these schools of thought except in syncretic outliers to the mainstreams of the belief system. Japan can be especially confusing, with most of the population incorporating practices from multiple religions into their lives. In China, 59% of the population are non-religious.[49] However, this percentage may be significantly greater (up to 80%) or smaller (down to 30%) in reality, because some Chinese define religion differently. Some Chinese define religion as practicing customs (which may be done for cultural or traditional reasons), while others define it as actually consciously believing their religion will lead to post-mortem salvation/reincarnation. According to the surveys of Phil Zuckerman on in 1993, 59% (over 700 million)[50] of the Chinese population was irreligious and 8% – 14% was atheist (from over 100 to 180 million) as of 2005.[51] (see Religion in China). Officially, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an atheist state, as declared by its Communist regime.[52][53] Census results record 81%[54] percent nonbelief (2009)[55] although this may be inflated because of Vietnam's official status as an atheist nation,[56] or that many reported as "non-believers" in formal religions still have some adherence to informal religious customs and practices such as ancestor worship, or to non-State sanctioned Buddhist temples or Christian churches.[57]

Southern Asia


Religions of India (2011 Census)[58][59]

  Hinduism (79.8%)
  Islam (14.2%)
  Christianity (2.3%)
  Sikhism (1.7%)
  Buddhism (0.7%)
  Jainism (0.4%)
  Other religions (0.7%)
  No religion (0.2%)
Main article: Irreligion in India

Atheism and agnosticism have a long history in India. Indian religions, like Buddhism, Jainism and some schools of Hinduism, consider atheism to be acceptable.[60][61] India has produced some notable atheist politicians and social reformers.[62] According to the 2012 WIN-Gallup Global Index of Religion and Atheism report, 81% of Indians were religious, 13% were not religious, 3% were convinced atheists, and 3% were unsure or did not respond.[63] According to 2011 Census of India, 99.76% of Indians are religious while 0.24% did not state their religious identity.[58]

Southeast Asia


An unknown number of Filipinos are irreligious but may form as much as 10% of the population.[64] Catholicism's historic dominance is steadily declining, with about 9.2% of adherents expressing a desire to leave the church.[65]

A survey conducted by WIN/GIA showed that 22% of Filipinos are atheist.


According to a 2007 report, 81% of the Vietnamese people do not believe in God.[66] On the official statistics of Vietnam, 29.6% of the population are not religious.[67]

Western Asia

Main article: Irreligion in Israel

In Israel, around 50% of Israelis who were born ethnically Jewish consider themselves "secular" or hilonim, some of them still keep certain religious traditions for cultural reasons, but most are immersed within the secular Jewish culture. The number of atheists and agnostics is lower, and it stands at 15% to 37% respectively. The 2009 Avi-Chai study found 77% of Israeli Jews believe in a "higher power", while 46% define themselves as secular, of which 8% define themselves as "anti-religious".[68] Conversely, the Fridman report for 2007 found that less than 20% define themselves as secular—and only 5% as anti-religious.[69]


A poll conducted by Eurobarometer, KONDA and some other research institutes in 2013 showed that around 4.5 million of the 75+ million population were atheists. Another poll conducted by the same institutions in 2015 showed that the number has reached 5.5 million, which means roughly 9.4% of the population in Turkey were atheists.[70]


Percentages of people in European countries who said in 2010 that they "believe there is a God"
Percentages of people in European countries with no belief in a spirit, god, or life force (Eurobarometer 2010)

According to a 2010 Eurostat Eurobarometer poll, 51% of European Union citizens responded that "they believe there is a God", whereas 26% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 20% that "they do not believe there is a spirit, God, nor life force". Results were widely varied between different countries, with 94% of Maltese respondents stating that they believe in God, on the one end, and only 16% of Czechs stating the same on the other.[71]

According to another poll about religiosity in the European Union from 2012 by Eurobarometer, 16% are Non believer/Agnostic, and 7% are Atheist.[72] 72% of EU citizens are Christians, and 2% are Muslims.[73]

According to Pew Research Center survey in 2012 religiously unaffiliated (include agnostic and atheist) make up about 18.2% of Europeans population.[34] According to the same survey religiously unaffiliated make up a majority of the population only in two European countries: Czech Republic (75%) and Estonia (60%).[34]

Eurobarometer Poll 2010[71]
Country "I believe
there is a God"
"I believe there is some
sort of spirit or life force"
"I don't believe there is any sort
of spirit, God or life force"
Malta Malta 94% 4% 2%
Romania Romania 92% 7% 1%
Cyprus Cyprus 88% 8% 3%
Greece Greece 79% 16% 4%
Poland Poland 79% 14% 5%
Italy Italy 74% 20% 6%
Republic of Ireland Ireland 70% 20% 7%
Portugal Portugal 70% 15% 12%
Slovakia Slovakia 63% 23% 13%
Spain Spain 59% 20% 19%
Lithuania Lithuania 47% 37% 12%
Luxembourg Luxembourg 46% 22% 24%
Hungary Hungary 45% 34% 20%
Austria Austria 44% 38% 12%
Germany Germany 44% 25% 27%
Latvia Latvia 38% 48% 11%
United Kingdom United Kingdom 37% 33% 25%
Belgium Belgium 37% 31% 27%
Bulgaria Bulgaria 36% 43% 15%
Finland Finland 33% 42% 22%
Slovenia Slovenia 32% 36% 26%
Denmark Denmark 28% 47% 24%
Netherlands Netherlands 28% 39% 30%
France France 27% 27% 40%
Estonia Estonia 18% 50% 29%
Sweden Sweden 18% 45% 34%
Czech Republic Czech Republic 16% 44% 37%
European Union EU27 51% 26% 20%
Turkey Turkey (EU candidate) 94% 1% 1%
Croatia Croatia (joined EU in 2013) 69% 22% 7%
Switzerland Switzerland (EFTA) 44% 39% 11%
Iceland Iceland (EEA, not EU) 31% 49% 18%
Norway Norway (EEA, not EU) 22% 44% 29%

Czech Republic

In 2001, the Czech Statistical Office provided census information on the ten million people in the Czech Republic. 59% had no religion, 32.2% were religious, and 8.8% did not answer.[74] Next census in 2011, with a differently worded form,[75] provided following figures: 34.2% not religious, 20.6% religious and 45.2% no answer.[76]


Main article: Irreligion in France

In France, about 12% of the population reportedly attends religious services more than once per month. In a 2003 poll 54% of those polled in France identified themselves as "faithful," 33% as atheist, 14% as agnostic, and 26% as "indifferent".[77] According to a different poll, 32% declared themselves atheists, and an additional 32% declared themselves agnostic.[78]


Main article: Irreligion in Germany
2008 map of Christian denominations in the states of Germany. Majority of population is:
  member of the Roman Catholic church
  member of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD)
  either member of the Roman Catholic church or the EKD with Roman Catholic the largest
  either member of the Roman Catholic church or the EKD with EKD the largest
  not religious, largest Christian minority is EKD

Eastern Germany is perhaps the least religious region in the world.[79] [80] Atheism is embraced by young and old, though more so by younger Germans.[81] One study in September 2012 was unable to find a single person under 28 who believed in a god.[82] The popular explanation for this is the aggressive atheist policies of German Democratic Republic's Socialist Unity Party of Germany. However, the enforcement of atheism only existed for the first few years. After that, the state allowed churches to have a relatively high level of autonomy.[83] Also, the same high numbers of atheists don't exist in the other European countries that have a history of Soviet occupation, except for the Czech Republic and Estonia. Another explanation could be the secular movements during the Weimar Republic which were strongest in the states of Thuringia and Saxony. Also, it was the Protestant areas of the Eastern Bloc that tended to turn irreligious under Communist rule the most. The most atheist parts of the former Soviet bloc were usually once the most Protestant (East Germany, Estonia, and most of Latvia), and the Czech Republic is the only one that was once mainly Catholic (although having the largest Protestant share following the above three).

Christianity still has a presence in the rest of Germany, although there is an atheist majority in Hamburg.


Beliefs in the Netherlands
(Dec 2014)[84]

  Atheism (25%)
  Agnostic (31%)
  Ietsism (27%)
  Theism (17%)

Religion in the Netherlands was predominantly Christianity until late into the 20th century. Although religious diversity remains, there has been a decline of religious adherence. In 2006, 34 percent of the Dutch population was a church member. [85] In 2015 almost 25 percent of the population adheres to one of the Christian churches (11.7% Roman Catholic, 8.6% PKN, 4.2% other small Christian denominations), 5 percent is Muslim and 2 percent adheres to Hinduism or Buddhism, based on independent in-depth interviewing by Radboud University and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.[86] Approximately 67.8% of the population in 2015 has no religious affiliation, up from 61% in 2006, 53% in 1996, 43% 1979 and 33% in 1966.[86] The Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau (Social and Cultural Planning Agency, SCP) expects the number of non-affiliated Dutch to be at 72% in 2020.[87]

From a December 2014 survey by the VU University Amsterdam it was concluded that for the first time there are more atheists (25%) than theists (17%) in the Netherlands. The majority of the population being agnostic (31%) or ietsistic (27%).[84]

A large majority of the Dutch population believes that religion should not have a determining role to play in politics and education. Religion is also decreasingly seen as a social binder,[85] and is generally considered a personal matter which should not be propagated in public.[88]

Atheism, agnosticism, and Christian atheism are on the rise; the first two being widely accepted and the last being more or less considered to be non-controversial. Among those who adhere to Christianity there are high percentages of atheists, agnostics and ietsists, since affiliation with a Christian denomination is also used in a way of cultural identification in the different parts of the Netherlands.[89] In 2015, a vast majority of the inhabitants of the Netherlands (82%) said they had never or almost never visited a church, and 59% stated that they had never been to a church of any kind. Of all the people questioned, 24% saw themselves as atheist, an increase of 11% compared to the previous study done in 2006.[86] The expected rise of spirituality (ietsism) has come to a halt according to research in 2015. In 2006 40 percent of respondents considered themselves spiritual, in 2015 this has dropped to 31 percent. The number who believed in the existence of a higher power fell from 36% to 28% over the same period.[85]

The number of Catholic parishes in the Netherlands has dropped between 2003 and 2014 from 1525 to 760.[90] Since the provinces North Brabant and Limburg are in the Netherlands historically mostly Roman Catholic, their people still use the term and some traditions as a base for their cultural identity rather than as a religious identity. The vast majority of the Catholic population in the Netherlands is now largely irreligious in practice. Research among Catholics in the Netherlands in 2007 shows that only 27% of the Dutch Catholics can be regarded as a theist, 55% as an ietsist, deist or agnostic and 17% as atheist.[91] A planned visit of Pope Francis to the Netherlands was blocked by cardinal Wim Eijk in 2014, allegedly because of the feared lack of interest for the Pope among the Dutch public.[92] Research shows that 42% of the members of the PKN are non-theist.[91] Furthermore, in the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) and several other smaller denominations of the Netherlands, 1 in 6 clergy are either agnostic or atheist.[93]


Main article: Irreligion in Norway

A 2006 survey in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten (on February 17), saw 1,006 inhabitants of Norway answering the question "What do you believe in?" 29% answered "I believe in a god or deity", 23% answered "I believe in a higher power without being certain of what", 26% answered "I don't believe in God or higher powers" and 22% answered "I am in doubt". As of December 2010, 78% of the population are members of the Norwegian state's official Lutheran Protestant church. All Norwegians with at least one parent who is a member are automatically registered as members at birth, so most members have done nothing actively to join, effectively creating an opt-out system where membership is not considered a serious statement of faith in Christianity, and one where many keep themselves enrolled for the sake of possibly wanting to have a ceremony in the church at some point in their life, without this necessarily implying belief.[94]


Main article: Irreligion in Russia

According to a surveys of Levada Center, 22% of those surveyed self-described as non-religious, agnostic or atheist, with 69% describing themselves as Orthodox and 5% as Muslims. Although 10% visit a church at least once a month, the fact that there has been a substantial increase in the Orthodox proportion of the population, along with the fact that those who identify themselves Christian are more likely to go to church, suggests that atheism and irreligion has greatly waned in Russia since the Soviet collapse.[95]


Religions in Spain
No answer
Religious affiliation in Spain in 2014, according to Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas.[96]
Main article: Irreligion in Spain

In Spain, 70.7% are religious believers (68.8% catholic and 1.9% others), 16.4% are non-believers and 9.7% are atheists, according to the April 2014 poll of the public Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas.[96]


Main article: Irreligion in Sweden

Several studies have found Sweden to be one of the most atheist countries in the world. 18% of Swedish citizens responded that "they believe there is a God", whereas 45% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 34% that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force". This, according to the survey, would make Swedes the third least religious people in the 28-member European Union, after Estonia and the Czech Republic.


According to a study carried out by doctor in political science Simon Geissbühler, Swiss atheists tend to be more left-leaning, even accounting for age and income, than the average Swiss population.[97]

United Kingdom

A poll in 2004 by the BBC put the number of people who do not believe in a god at 39%.[98] In early 2004, it was announced that students would be taught about agnosticism, atheism, and humanism alongside Islam and Christianity during religious education classes, to reflect the decline in churchgoing in England.[99] A compilation of some sociological studies indicates that roughly 30-40% of the British population does not have a belief in a god, but only 8% self identify as convinced atheist.[100]

North America


Main article: Irreligion in Canada

The exact number of atheists in Canada is disputed. (See the section "Statistical problems" above) The Canadian Ipsos Reid poll released September 12, 2011[101] entitled "Canadians Split On Whether Religion Does More Harm in the World than Good" sampled 1,129 Canadian adults and came up 30% who do not believe in a god. Interestingly, the same poll found that of the 33% of respondents who identified themselves as Catholics and Protestants, 28% said they didn't believe in a god.

An older poll shows 19–30% of the population holding an atheistic or agnostic viewpoint.[102] The 2001 Canadian Census states that 16.2% of the population holds no religious affiliation, though exact statistics on atheism are not recorded.[103] In urban centers this figure can be substantially higher; the 2001 census indicated that 42.2% of residents in Vancouver hold "no religious affiliation".[104] A recent survey in 2008 found that 23% of Canadians said they did not believe in a god.[105]

In a Pew Research Poll in 2013, it is estimated about 24%, consider themselves "religiously unaffiliated". Notably, the younger generation (those born between 1987 and 1995) are ranked at 29%.[106]

United States

Disbelief in god/gods in the United States by state/territory in 2014
  Disbelief in god/gods—20-30%
  Disbelief in god/gods—10-20%
  Disbelief in god/gods—<10%

According to a 2011 Gallup poll, more than 90% of Americans say "yes" when asked the basic question "Do you believe in God?"; this is down only slightly from the 1940s, when Gallup first asked this question. However, when given the choice to express uncertainties, the percentage of belief in God drops into the 70% to 80% range. When Americans are given the option of saying they believe in a universal spirit or higher power instead of in "God," about 12% choose the former.[107]

A 2004 BBC poll showed the number of people in the U.S. who don't believe in a god to be about 9–10%.[1] A 2008 Gallup poll showed that a smaller 6% of the U.S. population believed that no god or universal spirit exists.[108] The most recent American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) report, released March 9, 2009, showed a sharp distinction between belief and identity on the issue of the existence of a god. The survey showed that a total of 81.6% of Americans professed god-belief (69.5% in a personal god, 12.1% in a "higher power"), with the remaining 18.4% saying either there is no such thing as god (2.3%), there is no way to know (4.3%), not sure (5.7%), or refusing to answer (6.1%).[109] Nevertheless, although almost one in five Americans did not affirmatively profess god-belief, the numbers actually identifying as atheist or agnostic were much lower. The survey found 34.2 million Americans (15.0%) claim no religion, of which 1.6% explicitly describes itself as atheist (0.7%) or agnostic (0.9%), nearly double the previous 2001 ARIS survey figure of 0.9%.[110] The highest occurrence of "nones," according to the 2008 ARIS report, reside in Vermont, with 34% surveyed.[111]

According to the Pew Forum in 2007, 1.6% of the U.S. population describes itself as atheist.[112] A 2012 study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reports that 2.4% of the US population identified as atheists and that the number of religiously unaffiliated has grown from 15% to just under 20% from 2007 to 2012.[113] A Pew Research Center study done in 2014 found that self-identified atheists made up 3.1% of the US, up from 1.6% in 2007.[114] According to the 2014 General Sociological Survey, the number of atheists and agnostics in the U.S. has remained relatively flat in the past 23 years. In 1991, only 2% identified as atheist, and 4% identified as agnostic. In 2014, only 3% identified as atheists, and 5% identified as agnostics.[115]

Overall, Americans who profess no religion or self-identify as atheist or agnostic are more likely to be white or Asian and less likely to be black or Hispanic, as compared to the general adult population in U.S.[116] Men are more likely to be atheists and less religious than women.[117] 55 percent of atheists in America are under age 35, while 30 percent are 50 and over (compared to 37 percent of the total population). As a group, agnostics are older than atheists, though still younger than the general population.[116][118] A study on recent generations such as Millennials shows that of those between 18–29 years old, only 3% of these emerging adults self-identified as "atheists" and only 4% self-identified as "agnostics". Overall, 25% of Millennials are "Nones" and 75% are religiously affiliated.[119]

Legal and social discrimination against atheists in some places may lead some to deny or conceal their atheism due to fears of persecution. A 2006 study by researchers at the University of Minnesota involving a poll of 2,000 households in the United States found atheists to be the most distrusted of minorities, more so than Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians, rapists and other groups. Many of the respondents associated atheism with amorality, immorality, including criminal behaviour, extreme materialism, communism, and elitism.[120] However, the same study also reported that, "The researchers also found acceptance or rejection of atheists is related not only to personal religiosity, but also to one’s exposure to diversity, education and political orientation—with more educated, East and West Coast Americans more accepting of atheists than their Midwestern counterparts."[120]

A letter published in Nature in 1998 reported a survey suggesting that belief in a personal god or afterlife was at an all-time low among the members of the U.S. National Academy of Science, 7.0% of whom believed in a personal god as compared with more than 85% of the general U.S. population,[121] although this study has been criticized by Rodney Stark and Roger Finke for its definition of belief in God as "I believe in a God to whom one may pray in the expectation of receiving an answer" as ambiguous.[122] Eugenie Scott noted the same issue and compared to study with clearer wording which showed that 40% of prominent scientists believed in God.[40]

An article published by The University of Chicago Chronicle that discussed the above study, stated that 76% of physicians in the United States believe in God, more than the 7% of scientists above, but still less than the 85% of the general population.[123] Another study assessing religiosity among scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that "just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power; specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power."[124]

Frank Sulloway of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Michael Shermer of California State University conducted a study which found in their polling sample of "credentialed" U.S. adults (12% had Ph.Ds and 62% were college graduates) 64% believed in God, and there was a correlation indicating that religious conviction diminished with education level.[125]

In 1958, Michael Argyle of the University of Oxford analyzed seven research studies that had investigated correlation between attitude to religion and measured intelligence among school and college students from the U.S. Although a clear negative correlation was found, the analysis did not identify causality but noted that factors such as authoritarian family background and social class may also have played a part.[126] Sociologist Philip Schwadel found that higher levels of education are associated with increased religious participation and religious practice in daily life, but also correlate with greater tolerance for atheists' public opposition to religion and greater skepticism of "exclusivist religious viewpoints and biblical literalism".[127] Other studies have also examined the relationship between religiosity and intelligence; in a meta-analysis, 53 of 63 studies found that analytical intelligence correlated negatively with religiosity, with 35 of the 53 reaching statistical significance, while 10 studies found a positive correlation, 2 of which reached significance.[128]

Central America and Caribbean

Atheist/None/Agnostic populations in each country (1996-2013):[129]

Country 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2013
 Costa Rica 3 3 4 4 5 5 6 11 7 7 8 8 8 9 11 7 9
 Dominican Republic 10 10 10 6 11 10 14 11 13 11 12 12 13 13 17 13 11
 El Salvador 7 7 4 8 14 12 12 15 11 13 18 15 13 15 24 13 10
 Guatemala 8 6 5 8 13 8 7 7 10 8 8 13 11 9 12 9 9
 Honduras 7 7 10 5 10 7 12 10 11 10 10 12 10 14 11 10 9
 Mexico 3 2 5 3 2 6 5 6 8 2 7 7 7 7 10 5 7
 Nicaragua 4 4 6 10 6 8 10 7 12 7 9 13 11 10 13 9 12
 Panama 1 3 2 2 1 4 1 1 3 4 4 4 5 5 7 4 4
Main article: Irreligion in Mexico

Separation of church and state is guaranteed by Article 130 of the Mexican Constitution, which also designates religious leaders as ineligible for public office, while the majority of the population identifies as Roman Catholic (82%).[130]

Although the demographics of atheism and irreligion in Mexico is hard to measure because many atheists are officially counted as Catholic, almost three million people in the 2000 National Census reported having no religion.[131] Recent surveys have shown that only around 3% of Catholics attend church daily[132] and, according to INEGI, the number of atheists grows annually by 5.2%, while the number of Catholics grows by 1.7%.[133][134] The 2010 Mexican census by the INEGI shows that 4.9% of Mexicans have no religion, up from 0.6% in 1960 and 3.5% in 2000.[135]



The increase of the proportion of the New Zealand population recorded as having 'no religion' over the last five censuses.

In the Australian 2011 Census of Population and Housing, in the question which asked "What is the person's religion?" 22.3% reported "no religion", which is a growth of 7 percentage points since the 2001 Census. This question was optional and 9.4% of the population did not answer the question.[136] There are often popular and successful campaigns to have people describe themselves as non-mainstream religions (e.g. Jedi).

New Zealand

In New Zealand's 2013 census, 42 per cent of people said they had no religious affiliation - an increase of more than 7 percentage points since the previous census, in 2006.[137] The proportion of the population identifying as Christian fell below 50 per cent for the first time since records began. Similarly to Australia, many New Zealanders have identified themselves as Jedi and Pastafarian in censuses. These responses are treated as illegitimate.[138]

South America

Atheist/None/Agnostic population in each country (1996-2013):[129]

Country 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2013
 Argentina 6 6 8 5 8 8 8 7 7 8 8 13 12 11 14 15 13
 Bolivia 3 3 2 4 4 3 4 4 4 2 3 4 5 4 5 6 5
 Brazil 6 8 8 8 8 3 5 6 7 7 7 10 9 9 9 11 11
 Chile 9 8 8 10 13 11 14 9 13 14 11 15 18 18 19 25 25
 Colombia 3 3 4 4 4 4 6 6 6 5 6 5 6 8 10 6 8
 Ecuador 2 1 2 3 2 1 3 5 3 4 4 3 5 3 3 3 4
 Paraguay 1 2 2 2 3 1 1 3 1 2 2 2 2 2 4 2 2
 Peru 2 2 2 3 2 1 2 2 2 2 3 3 3 4 5 3 4
 Uruguay 19 24 22 22 23 21 26 31 34 32 39 42 39 46 47 35 38
 Venezuela 5 5 5 6 4 4 3 4 3 1 6 6 7 6 11 9 8


Main article: Irreligion in Brazil

In Brazil, non religious people rose from about 4% in the end of the 20th century to around 8% in the most recent reliable census and recent estimates put it in 10–14% of the population, being the 2nd largest group after Christianity.[139] According to recent researches, Brazilians who profess no religion or self-identify as atheist or agnostic are more likely to be White Brazilian, Amerindian or Asian and less likely to be Afro-Brazilian or Pardo when compared to the general population.[140]

There is evidence that the atheist minority is more likely to suffer prejudice than other groups: when asked about presidential candidates, in spite of major racial discrimination against black people in Brazilian society, 83% of Brazilians would vote for an Afro-Brazilian; in spite of major forms of sexism present in Latin American societies, 57% of Brazilians would vote for a female candidate (indeed, the first woman elected to the office, Dilma Rousseff, won the 2010 and 2014 elections); in spite of the historical homophobia in the country, 37% of Brazilians would vote for a gay candidate. Nevertheless, only 13% of Brazilians would vote for an atheist person to occupy the post of president without negatively judging the candidate for his or her religion and 6 in 10 Brazilians would not vote for an atheist president at all.[141][142] A 2009 survey showed that atheists are the most hated demographic group in Brazil, among several other minorities polled, being almost on par with drug addicts. According to the research, 17% of the interviewees stated they feel either hate or repulse for atheists, while 25% feel antipathy and 29% are indifferent.[143]

As it is the case with LGBT individuals and practitioners of African diasporic religions or Spiritism, affiliation with Evangelical or Pentecostal sects leads to even more negative social perceptions of atheists and irreligious individuals.[144] The widespread view of Protestants as far less secularized and much more intolerant and conservative than Catholics has, however, been criticized as classism.[145]


Main article: Irreligion in Uruguay

According to a study by Eric Kaufmann in 2010, 47% of Uruguayans are not religious (of which 24% atheist, 14% agnostic and 9% skeptical but neither atheist nor agnostic).[146]

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  124. "Scientists and Belief". Pew Research Center. Retrieved 2013-11-21. A survey of scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in May and June 2009, finds that members of this group are, on the whole, much less religious than the general public.1 Indeed, the survey shows that scientists are roughly half as likely as the general public to believe in God or a higher power. According to the poll, just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power; specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power.
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  136. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Census of Population and Housing, 2011, Cultural Diversity in Australia
  137. "2013 Census QuickStats about culture and identity". Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  138. "No spaghetti monster here". Stuff. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  139. (Portuguese) How can be the everyday life of a family with no faith. iG web portal citing Folha de S.Paulo data, 2011.
  140. (Portuguese) Study Panorama of religions. Fundação Getúlio Vargas, 2003.
  141. (Portuguese) Veja magazine – How faith resists unbelief. Veja magazine, edition 2040, 2007.
  142. (Portuguese) VEJA 5 – Only 13% of Brazilians would vote for an atheist for president. Right-leaning Brazilian Veja magazine, 2011.
  143. "Ateus e drogados são os mais odiados pelos brasileiros". (in Portuguese). May 3, 2009. Retrieved August 4, 2013.
  144. (Portuguese) The hard life of atheists in an increasing "Evangelical" (Protestant) Brazil. Época, 2011.
  145. (Portuguese) Rafael Galvão – these "differentiated people" and their oh-so-not amicable religions. Rafael Galvão's critic blog, 2011.
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