Global atheism and aging populations

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Atheism is in decline worldwide, with the number of atheists falling from 4.5% of the world's population in 1970 to 2.0% in 2010 and projected to drop to 1.8% by 2020.[1]

The current global atheist population mostly resides in East Asia (particularly China) and in secular Europe/Australia primarily among whites.[2] See: Global atheism

As can be seen below, global atheism is facing significant challenges in terms of aging populations in East Asia and Europe and atheism is expected to shrink in terms of its market share of the world's population (see: Desecularization and aging populations and Desecularization and Causes of desecularization).

Atheists and fertility rates

See also: Atheism and fertility rates and Causes of desecularization and Atheism and sexuality

The cause of many irreligious countries having aging populations is their sub-replacement fertility rates. Michael Blume, a researcher at the University of Jena in Germany, wrote about the sub-replacement level of fertility among atheistic populations: "Most societies or communities that have espoused atheistic beliefs have not survived more than a century."[3] Blume also indicated concerning concerning his research on this matter: "What I found was the complete lack of a single case of a secular population, community or movement that would just manage to retain replacement level."[3] See also: Atheism and sexuality

The Washington Post wrote about the United States and fertility rates for various religious groups:

According to Pew's data, the average Mormon can expect to make 3.4 babies in his or her lifetime. Jews, Catholics, and most flavors of Protestantism have fertility rates ranging from 2 to 2.5. At the low end of the baby-making spectrum you've got atheists, with 1.6 kids, and agnostics, who average only 1.3.[4]

As atheist populations rise in age, the fertility rates of atheistic countries could drop further. The Rand Corporation indicates, "Nearly all European nations are experiencing long-term downtrends in fertility, and consequently, ageing of their populations. These demographic trends could have potentially damaging consequences for European economies."[5]

Desecularization and aging populations in the developed world

See also: Desecularization and aging populations and Causes of desecularization and Desecularization

The article Developed countries may become more religious in 20 years indicates:

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.[6]

For more information, please see: Desecularization and aging populations

East Asia's aging population and global desecularization

See also: Asian atheism and East Asia and global desecularization

An elderly man in Beijing, China. CNBC reported in 2015: "36 percent of the world's population over 65 currently live in East Asia. That's 211 million people and it is projected to rise over time."[7]

Razib Khan points out in Discover Magazine, "most secular nations in the world are those of East Asia, in particular what are often termed “Confucian societies.” It is likely therefore that the majority of the world’s atheists are actually East Asian."[8] See: Asian atheism

CNBC reported in 2015:

If stock market volatility, slowing economies, and low commodity prices were not enough of a problem for East Asia, many countries in the region now have to worry about losing as much as 15 percent of their working-age population by 2040, according to the World Bank.

In a report released Wednesday, the World Bank said aging population and low fertility rates are to blame as 36 percent of the world's population over 65 currently live in East Asia. That's 211 million people and it is projected to rise over time.[7]

According to the global news website Quartz, Asia is going through a process of desecularization:

Atheists, agnostics, and other religious non-affiliates are a dying breed in Asia. According to a Pew Research Center study released last week, Asia’s shrinking pool of men and women who don’t identify with any religion are driving a drop in the proportion of “religious nones” in the world.

The percentage of the unaffiliated in Asia Pacific—home to about 76% of the world’s unaffiliated—will fall to 17% in 2050 from 21%, Pew estimates. ...this drop in Asia and the growth of religious communities elsewhere will mean the unaffiliated will make up only 13% of the world’s population in 2050, down from 16% in 2010.[9]

China's aging population

See also: Growth of Christianity in China

China has the largest atheists population in the world (see: Atheist population). The Chinese population is rapidly aging, due to a lower mortality rate and its former one child policy. This will lead to a pension problem for the Chinese government.[10] See: Asian atheism

Like most religious conservatives within Abrahamic religions, Evangelical Christians do have higher than replacement levels of births (see: Desecularization). China's demographics in terms of the age of its population will likely change in the 21st century due to the rapid growth of evangelical Christianity in China (see: Growth of Christianity in China).

Secular Europe and its countries aging populations

See also: European desecularization in the 21st century

In 2014, the Pew Research Forum indicated that Europe will go from 11% of the world's population to 7% of the world's population by 2050.[11] See also: Secular Europe and Growth of global desecularization

Giuseppe Carone and Declan Costello of the International Monetary Fund projected in September 2006 that the ratio of retirees to workers in Europe will double to 0.54 by 2050 (from four workers per retiree to two workers per retiree).[12]

In 2014, the Pew Research Forum indicated that Europe will go from 11% of the world's population to 7% of the world's population by 2050.[11] The cause of this matter is the sub-replacement level of secular Europeans and the higher fertility rates of religious countries in the world.

However, within secular Europe, there are religious sub-populations seeing significant growth which along with religious immigrants will cause a desecularization of Europe sometime in the 21st century (see: European desecularization in the 21st century).

Ed West wrote in Britain's newspaper The Telegraph:

Across the western world the fertility rate of religious conservatives far outstrips that of non-believers, so much so that modern liberal secularism is endangered. That, anyway, is the thesis of Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, a fascinating new book by Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck University, which is published later this month. It may well be one of the most significant books of our era.”[13]

Europe's aging population is a serious issue and it will stress its various pension systems.[14]

Atheism and Alzheimer's disease

See: Atheism and Alzheimer's disease

In irreligious/nonreligious regions, there is a significant amount of Alzheimer's disease (see: Irreligious/nonreligious geographic regions and Alzheimer's disease).

Diet, exercise, obesity, the degree of alcohol consumption, various spiritual practices and various other health practices are linked to the development and/or progression of Alzheimer's disease (see: Religion and Alzheimer's disease prevention).[15][16]

For more information about religion/atheism and various health practices, please see: Atheism and Alzheimer's disease.

Communists and the elderly in Russia

See also: Collapse of atheism in the former Soviet Union

Atheist ideology is part of communist ideology (see: Atheism and communism).

According to the University of Cambridge, historically, the "most notable spread of atheism was achieved through the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which brought the Marxist-Leninists to power."[17]

Joseph Stalin's atheistic regime killed tens of millions of people. See: Atheism and mass murder.

In 2002, the The National Council for Eurasian and East European Research published a paper entitled Are the Communist Dying out in Russia? which declared:

According to many observers of Russian politics, advocates of market-oriented reform have time on their side. A number of studies have reported that backing for the Communist Party and opposition to reform is concentrated among the elderly. As this cohort of voters – people who came of age during the Stalinist era and who have suffered disproportionately from Yeltsin-era economic reforms – dies off, one would expect to see a decline in support for the Communists and weaker resistance to further reform measures. The results of elections in 1999 and 2000, however, show that support for the Communists remained relatively steady over the decade of the 1990s...

This is probably pretty good news for Zyuganov and the Communists. According to data on the age structure of the Russian population, there are many millions of people over fifty years old and, thus, too old to smoothly transition to the ways of the new economy. Support for the Communists among such people is disproportionately strong, and old workers (who are soon-to-be pensioners) will remain a very large category of voters for many years to come.[18]

Belief in God rises with age

See also: Atheism and its retention rate in individuals

A 2012 study by the General Social Survey of the social science research organization NORC at the University of Chicago found that belief in God rises with age, even in atheistic nations.[19]

See also

External links


  1. Global Study: Atheists in Decline, Only 1.8% of World Population by 2020
  2. A surprising map of where the world’s atheists live, By Max Fisher and Caitlin Dewey, Washington Post, May 23, 2013
  3. 3.0 3.1 Atheist: A dying breed as nature favours faithful
  4. Charted: The religions that make the most babies, Washington Post
  5. Low Fertility and Population Ageing, Rand Corporation
  6. Developed countries may become more religious in 20 years, Eureka Alert
  7. 7.0 7.1 Here's why East Asia could be in big trouble, CNBC
  8. Most atheists are not white & other non-fairy tales, Discover magazine
  9. Across the Asia Pacific, the population of atheists and agnostics is shrinking
  10. China's aging population
  11. 11.0 11.1 Kochhar, Rakesh (February 3, 2014). "10 projections for the global population in 2050". FactTank/Pew Research Center website.
  12. Europe's Aging Population Faces Social Problems Similar to Japan's. Goldsea Asian American Daily. Retrieved on 15 December 2007.
  13. Cyanide Tablet and the End of Atheism by Gary Demar
  14. Looming pension crisis
  15. Obesity + aging linked to Alzheimer's markers in the brain, Science Daily, June 28, 2018
  16. Obesity as a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease: weighing the evidence. by Alford S, Patel D, Perakakis N, Mantzoros CS., Obesity Reviews. 2018 Feb;19(2):269-280. doi: 10.1111/obr.12629. Epub 2017 Oct 10.
  17. Investigating atheism: Marxism. University of Cambridge (2008). Retrieved on July 17, 2014. “The most notable spread of atheism was achieved through the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which brought the Marxist-Leninists to power. For the first time in history, atheism thus became the official ideology of a state.”
  18. ARE THE COMMUNISTS DYING OUT IN RUSSIA?, The National Council for Eurasian and East European Research
  19. Belief in God rises with age, even in atheist nations