The Social Dynamics of Religiosity Decline

Dr. Jakson Aquino

What is the causal sequence resulting in declining religiosity? Analyzing World Values Survey (WVS) data, previous researchers have demonstrated that economic development makes people less worried about survival and freer to express their sentiments and beliefs and even dismiss religion as the main source to look for the meaning of life. More precisely, in the most economically developed societies, emancipative values become widespread and have important effects in many social arenas, including higher demand for democracy and the replacement of religion as a source of happiness. In this paper, I consider that are more religious the individuals who attend religious service frequently, consider religion important in life, and define themselves as religious persons. Using aggregated WVS 1981-2022 trend data by country/wave to fit lagged regressions (Granger causality tests), I confirm that GDP per capita explains emancipative values, which, in turn, explain religiosity. Moreover, the lagged regressions — including logged GDP and emancipative values as controls — show that people attribute less importance to religion before decreasing their attendance to religious services. This finding is the main contribution of this paper since I did not find it in the reviewed literature. Finally, multilevel regressions also confirm that cohort effect on religiosity is stronger than the effect of age, that is, in countries where religiosity is declining, younger people are less religious and it is not expected that they will become much more religious later in life, unless deep and lengthy economic crises undermine their well-being. In summary, economic prosperity frees people from many restrictions and allows them to develop new values which partially clash with the teachings of their religions. Mostly for young people, the conflict of values results in seeing religion as less important and, ultimately, deciding not to go to church.

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