Irish People Abandoning Religion

Irish people are among the least religious in the world. That’s according to the latest Global Index of Religion and Atheism released by WIN-Gallup International.

The index is based on surveys conducted in 57 countries, representing more than 73% of the world’s population.

According to the index:

  • Only 47% of the Irish population consider themselves religious, compared to a global average of 59%.
  • The number of people who consider themselves religious in Ireland has dropped a staggering 22% since 2005, second only to Vietnam.
  • 10% of people in Ireland now identify as “convinced atheists”, up from 3% in 2005. This puts Ireland in the top 10 atheist populations. The global average is 13% but this is heavily influenced by China, an outlier at 47%.

These numbers contrast significantly with the results of last year’s census where 84% of the population identified as Catholic, while just under 6% claimed to have no religion. The difference is most likely due to the way the questions were asked. Atheist Ireland has been critical of the census question which assumed people had a religion and asked them what it was, rather than asking if they had a religion. It seems that many people in Ireland who do not see themselves as religious still identify as Catholic. Indeed, an MRBI poll conducted earlier in the year revealed that 8% of self-identified Catholics do not believe in God!

Derek Walsh


  1. Avatar
    Paul Gorman August 08, 2012

    Page 5 of the cited report shows that in 2005 13% of Irish people considered themselves to be “convinced atheist”, and this number drops to 10% in 2011, a decrease of 3% not an increase as indicated in the article above. The increase of 3% referred to on page 5 is the average global increase.

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    Derek Walsh August 08, 2012

    Well spotted, Paul. That appears to be a mistake in the original report, as Table 4 on page 12 gives the figure of 3%. The graph on page 5 seems to be wrong as the total figures add to 109% and there should never be more than a 1% rounding error. I suspect someone copied the similar graph from page 2 and neglected to change one of the figures.
    There appears to be at least one other discrepancy: the figure for global religiosity is variously given as 59% or 68%. This may be due to one of the figures being weighted and one unweighted although this isn’t clear (at least to me). I’ll contact Red C about these errors and update as needed.

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    Paul Gorman August 09, 2012

    I suspect that the left column of the graph on page should have 3% “convinced atheist”, giving a total of 99%, this matches with Table 4on page 12, and Table 9 on page 21. The 13% is likely a typo made before the graph that didn’t get picked up. I can’t totally reconcile the 59%/68% discrepancy, but it seems to me that the 59% is the average of the 57 countries surveyed recently, and the 68% is just the average of the 40 countries surveyed both times, possibly excluding Hong Kong and Turkey as well to make that number 38, as noted on page 11. But it is definitely unclear.

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    Derek Walsh August 09, 2012

    I’ve received a response from Red C:

    There is a typo on one chart correctly pointed out by you where atheists were 3% in 2005 and not 13%.

    On the global average the 59% cited on table 6, 7 and 8 is the weighted average applying the populations on each of the countries. Table 3 and 4 would appear to be a straightforward average across all nations not making any adjustment for size of population but rather taking the response for each nation and dividing by 57.

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    Paul Gorman August 09, 2012

    Ahh, that clears that up. 🙂

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    Greg S Monks September 06, 2012

    I do wish people would stop using the term “atheist”. Atheism is an active disbelief in the existence of the non-existent god, and as such is a reactionary religious term. For those of us that are truly non-believers, there is no ongoing process of disbelief: there is simply nothing there in the belief category. I myself use the terms “non-credulous” or “secular” when pressed for a name.

    The term “atheist” plays right into the hands of believers who are big on the Christian notion of “denial”. This kind of thinking lies at the core of Christian religious thought, because Christianity, being the embodiment of denial (of the finitude of life), is reactionary (and dishonest) by nature.

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    Derek Walsh September 06, 2012

    Greg, you’re probably right that atheism is a reactionary term. Without the invention of gods, and widespread belief in them, not believing in one would probably not be significant enough to require a name. Similarly, without the pervasiveness of alcohol, the word “teetotaller” would be meaningless or irrelevant. However, I don’t think those who use it are pandering to the drinks industry.
    The term “non-believer” has a problem as it’s not clear what it is you don’t believe in. “Non-credulous” is both clumsy and insulting. “Secular” does not mean the same as “non-believer” or “atheist” so isn’t a good substitute.
    If someone asks you: “Do you believe in god(s)?” and your answer is no, you are an atheist. It’s not necessarily the case that you are generally a non-believer or non-credulous, although it’s very likely you would be secular.
    Some people who do not believe in gods prefer to focus on their skepticism or rationalism as these are the (important) processes that lead to their (incidental) atheism, but most of these would generally agree that they are atheists.