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Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Study: Who's religious?


Adult Canadians attach a higher degree of importance to religion than religious attendance figures alone would indicate, according to a study released today in Canadian Social Trends.

But many of us apparently prefer to engage in some religious practices in the privacy of our own home, rather than in public.

According to previous research, only about one-third of adult Canadians attend religious services at least once a month.

However, this new study has found that more than one-half engage in religious activities on their own at least on a monthly basis, even if it is just to say a little prayer or do some meditating.

According to the Ethnic Diversity Survey, conducted in 2002, nearly half of the people who do not attend religious services regularly, but who do engage in some kind of activity on their own, attach a high degree of importance to their religion.

Not surprisingly, those who regularly attend services and engage in personal activities are most likely to place high importance on religion.

Half of adult Canadians regularly engage in religious activities on their own

Public religious behaviour, religious affiliation and attendance have been declining among much of the population, but these developments capture only one aspect of peoples' religiosity.

To get a more complete picture, this study used the Ethnic Diversity Survey to examine private religious practices that people did on their own such as prayer, meditation, worship and reading of sacred texts at home or some other location.

The survey showed that Canadians do engage in such private religious behaviour either at home or in other locations, even though they may have little or no connection with religious organizations.

Note to readers

This release is based on a study in the May 2006 issue of Canadian Social Trends titled "Who's religious?"

The majority of the data came from the 2002 Ethnic Diversity Survey, conducted from April to August 2002. About 42,500 people aged 15 and over were interviewed by telephone in the 10 provinces.

The survey was developed by Statistics Canada, in partnership with the Department of Canadian Heritage, to provide information on the ethnic and cultural backgrounds of people in Canada and how these backgrounds relate to their lives today.

It covered topics such as religion, ethnic or cultural ancestry and identity, family background and social networks.

Survey data showed that over one-half (53%) reported that they engaged in religious activities on their own at least monthly, while about 11% did so a few times a year. (According to previous research, only about 32% of adult Canadians attended religious services at least monthly.)

The likelihood that people would engage in religious activities on their own was more prevalent in older age groups, as is the case with attendance at religious services.

Immigrants were also more likely to engage in private religious practices and attend religious services than the Canadian-born population.

Most striking was the proportion of Canadians who infrequently or never attend services, yet regularly engage in personal religious practices.

Of those who infrequently attended religious services over the year prior to the survey, 37% said they engaged in religious practices on their own on a weekly basis. And of those who had not attended any religious services over the previous year, 27% said they engaged in weekly religious practices on their own.

Overall, this group of adults who regularly engage in private religious practices, but infrequently or never attend religious services, represented 21% of the adult population.

Religiosity index: Less than a third of Canadians are "highly religious"

The four dimensions of religiosity — affiliation, attendance, personal practices and importance of religion — can be combined into a simple "religiosity index".

People may attend religious services or choose religious denominations to please their loved ones. So, an index which also captures the importance of religion and personal religious practices may be a better indicator of religiosity.

A high score on this index indicates that the individual attends religious services at least once a week, engages in personal religious practices at least once a week, and places a great deal of importance on religion.

Based on these criteria, 40% of Canadians have a low degree of religiosity, 31% are moderately religious and 29% are highly religious.

Religiosity is lowest among young people and higher among individuals in older age groups. Men are also much more likely to have low religiosity than women.

The degree of religiosity expressed by Canadians is associated with the religious background of their parents. Among individuals who said that neither of their parents had a religion, 85% had a low degree of religiosity and only 10% had a high degree.

In contrast, among individuals who reported that both of their parents had similar religious backgrounds, 32% had a low degree of religiosity and 33% had a high degree. This is consistent with other studies that show religious parents are most likely to pass their religion on to their children. This occurs most often when both parents have similar religious backgrounds.

About 4 in 10 (41%) of the immigrants who arrived in Canada between 1982 and 2001 had a high degree of religiosity, compared with 26% of people born in Canada.

However, there is considerable variation in levels of religiosity among immigrants from different regions of the world.

For example, high levels of religiosity were most prevalent among immigrants from South Asia (for example, India and Pakistan).

In contrast, high levels of religiosity were least prevalent among immigrants from East Asia (such as China and Japan) and Western and Northern Europe (countries such as France and the United Kingdom).

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 4508.

The article "Who's Religious?" is now available for free online in the May  2006  issue of Canadian Social Trends (11-008-XWE, free). To obtain a copy, go to the Our products and services page of our Web site.

For more information contact Warren Clark (613-951-2560;, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.

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Date Modified: 2006-05-02 Important Notices