Religious Attendance in Cross-National Perspective

Why are some countries more religious than others? A partial answer to this question is provided by two Dutch sociologists, Stijn Ruiter and Frank van Tubergen, in a very recent (notwithstanding the November 2009 cover date) article in the American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 115, No. 3, pp. 863-95, and entitled ‘Religious Attendance in Cross-National Perspective: A Multilevel Analysis of 60 Countries’.

The authors use data from 60 of the 82 countries included in three of the waves of the European/World Values Surveys, conducted between 1990 and 2001. They cover 136,600 respondents in all, including Britons.

Multilevel logistic regression techniques are applied to these data to test eleven hypotheses derived from four theories of religious change (including secularization) and which potentially bear on differential levels of religious attendance. The discussion is sophisticated but also somewhat technical and heavy going.

Ruiter and van Tubergen conclude that three-quarters of the cross-national variation in religious attendance is explained ‘by personal and societal insecurities and by parental and national religious socialization and level of urbanization’.

Attendance rates were found to be particularly high in countries with more socio-economic inequalities and lower social welfare expenditure. Less surprisingly, people living in urban areas worship less frequently than rural residents, while those brought up in religious societies attend services more than those reared in secular nations.

More generally, the World Values Survey website – – is an excellent resource, enabling files to be downloaded from, and online analysis to be conducted on, all the surveys which have been undertaken since 1981. It includes data from the three principal British surveys to have been published to date, with fieldwork in 1981, 1990 and 1999.

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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