Secularization in Europe: Religious Change between and within Birth Cohorts

David Voas, Stefanie Doebler

Abstract


There is ample evidence of religious decline in Western Europe but no general consensus on the situation in the East. Analysis of three waves of the European Values Study (from 1990, 1999 and 2008) adds to the evidence base on secularization across the continent. As expected, older people in most countries, even in Central and Eastern Europe (though not in parts of the former Yugoslavia), seem to be more religious than the rest of the population. More surprisingly, the data suggest that religiosity increased in Northern and Southern as well as Eastern Europe during the 1990s. It is far from clear that these apparent rises are genuine.

It still seems fair to say that society is changing religiously not because individuals are changing, but rather because old people are gradually replaced by younger people with different characteristics. Much remains to be understood, though, about why recent generations are different. Parents may be partly responsible, by giving children more control over their own lives. The composition of society has changed, but so has the context in which people are raised. Young people acquire different values and face new conditions. Which factors are most important remains to be determined.


Keywords


religion, generations, values, Eastern Europe, EVS

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