In 2019, 7% of the world population stated that they are either atheist or agnostic with a noticeable increase in the West. The decline of church attendance across much of the world  does not  however reflect belief  but affiliation. Whether or not they ascribe to a mainstream religion, the vast majority of the global population state a belief in a Creator or a Supreme Intelligence. There is if anything, a growing awareness and belief in the existence of the soul and its continuation beyond death.

Religiously Unaffiliated

The religiously unaffiliated number 1.1 billion, which accounts for about one-in-six (16%) of people worldwide. Perception and results are skewed when non affiliation is confused with agnosticism or atheism. These numbers can include people who do not identify with any particular religion but may have a strong faith, for example the growing number who consider themselves Christian but do not attend church or may follow ‘New Age’ movements. For example, belief in God or a higher power is shared by 7% of Chinese unaffiliated adults, 30% of French unaffiliated adults and 68% of unaffiliated U.S. adults.


2004 survey by the BBC in 10 countries showed the proportion of the population “who don’t believe in God” to be close to 17% with 8% specifically stating that they consider themselves to be “atheists” however almost 30% of all atheists surveyed said they sometimes prayed.

2012 Pew Research Center’s Global Study of 230 countries and territories indicated 16% of the world’s population is not affiliated with a religion, while 84% are.  Almost one quarter, 23% of those with no religious identity (including atheists and agnostics) still believe in a God and maintain various religious beliefs and practices.

  • A majority (53%) of Canadians stated a belief in God however 28% of Protestants, 33% of Catholics, and 23% of those who attended weekly religious services did not.
  • In the United States, only 5% of the population did not have a belief in a god, yet out of that small group only 24% self-identified as “atheist”.
  • In the Netherlands, 41.1% of “convinced atheists” stated a belief in telepathy, 21.1% in reincarnation, 13.3% in life after death, and 1.6% in Heaven!
  • China has State atheism and by far the largest global percentage of those ascribing to atheism, however 85% of the population state that they practice various kinds of religious behaviours with some regularity.

2018 by Gallup International Poll  to explore religious tendencies of 66,000 people in 68 countries across the world:  62% of people  defined themselves as religious, however 74% of respondents said they believe people have souls and 54% believe in life after death.

Map showing global religous affiliation  

Grey denotes agnostic or atheist.


  1. Christianity (blue) dominates  the Americas, Europe and the southern half of Africa.
  2. Islam (green) is the top religion in a string of countries from northern Africa through the Middle East to Indonesia.
  3. India stands out as a huge Hindu bloc (dark orange).
  4. Buddhism (light orange) is the majority religion in South East Asia and Japan.
  5. Israel is the world’s only majority-Jewish state (75% Jewish with 18% Muslim) along with  a significant Jewish presence (20%, with 80% Muslim) in the West Bank.Counted as one country, the Jewish majority would drop to around 55%.

Grey areas: United States is majority Christian, but the atheist/agnostic share of its population alone is bigger than the total population of most other countries. China has the highest percentage of atheists in the world with 67% not believing in religion. Seven out ten people are atheists, more than double that of any other country with 23% considering themselves as non-religious people. A mere 9% identify as religious in China. In comparison, only 1% of people in Thailand and 2% in India define themselves as atheists.

Map shows religous affiliation in Europe 

Grey denotes agnostic or atheist

A glance at the European map shows Sweden, the Czech Republic, the UK, Germany and France as the next least religious countries. In Sweden 18% of people define themselves as atheist and 55% as non-religious,  the Czech Republic is 25% atheist and 47% non-religious. In the UK, 11% of people claim to be atheist and 58% non-religious.


July 2020: Pew Research Centre for ‘The importance of Prayer and God in life’

Religious commitment is lower in places where life is easier. Higher levels of wealth typically denote lower levels of prayer. In every surveyed country with a GDP of more than $30,000 per person, fewer than 40% of adults say they pray every day (except in the United States (where 55% of adults pray daily).

Americans enjoy a high standard of living, high rates of literacy and education, a developed economy and a representative democracy. However, compared with other similarly developed countries, the U.S. has relatively high levels of economic inequality, infant mortality and imprisonment rates. Israel with a markedly higher GDP than the other countries is the only country in the Middle East-North Africa region where fewer than 50% of adults pray every day.

Large-scale catastrophes such as famines, wars and earthquakes spur increases in religious behaviour however research indicates that this allegiance is temporary and not sustained.

  • Gallup surveys dating back nearly 80 years show that in 1939, 39% of Americans aged 40 and older and 36% of U.S. adults younger than 40 claimed to have attended church in the last week. Both groups saw a rise in attendance in the post war period – the early years of the Cold War followed by a decline in the late 1950s as American wealth increased.
  • The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, defined  the 21st century to date. According to Gallup polls, religious attendance the first weekend after the attacks was up six percent from the weekend before. (Walsh 2002) The response was not sustained, November polls were already indicating that church attendance had retreated back to normal levels.
  • The February 2011 earthquake in New Zealand resulted in 185 deaths and thousands of injuries. The New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study discovered that people living in the Canterbury region in that period showed an increased religious affiliation of 3.4%. compared with a 1.6% net drop in religious affiliation across the rest of New Zealand.

It will be interesting to see the effect of the Covid epidemic on religous affiliation and perhaps more accurately on spiritual values. Ironically, both demand disciplined practice to be effective.