Atheism on the Rise in Ireland

The Irish Central Statistics Office just released a detailed report (PDF) on the country’s 2011 Census, this on specifically focused on religion.

When it comes to the nation’s non-religious population, everything’s looking amazing.

Take the following graph, for instance, documenting the growth in the number of atheists in each age demographic. The dark purple lines — the ones sticking out at the sides — represent 2011:

That’s some impressive growth across the board.

And then, there’s this chart, indicating net change for our various labels:

There’s growth for all three categories, but I’m amazed at how popular the “No Religion” tag is compared to atheist or Agnostic.

The sum total of those with no religion, atheists and agnostics increased more than fourfold between 1991 and 2011 to stand at 277,237. The largest proportionate increase was in atheism which has grown from 320 to 3,905 over the twenty years.

Hats off to Atheist Ireland and all the other individuals and groups doing great work to promote reason in the country.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Octoberfurst

    Sure & begorrah tis wonderful news! Now let’s celebrate and eat some Lucky Charms!  

  • Neil Rickert

    .., but I’m amazed at how popular the “No Religion” tag is compared to atheist or Agnostic.

    As somebody who prefers “no religion,” I am amazed that you are amazed.

    “Agnostic” seems a bit too academic a term.  When I dropped religion, I didn’t want to have anything to do with it.  I am not interested in arguing against religion.  I am not offended to be called “atheist,” but that term seems to have connotations that don’t fit.  So “no religion” it is.

  • Paul Caggegi

    Ha! is it ironic that the graph kinda looks like a christmas tree?

  • Eric M Boucher

    How can a 0-4 year old be in any group atheist or theist?

  • Paige

    Totally thought the same thing!

  • Quintin

    Near triplification for agnostics, easy quadruplification for atheists now surpassing agnostics and another 80 000 nondescript non-religious in just five years. That’s nothing but good news. Undoubtedly Atheist Ireland has had an impact, especially their campaign urging the non-religious to be honest about their non-religion (instead of being honest about their cultural Catholicism usually).
    I doubt you’d be amazed if you knew that the census question gave no options “agnostic” or “atheist”, only “no religion” (tucked away below the “other” fill-in box).

  • Sam B

    It is most likley they were recorded as “No Religion” rather than Atheist. This would be logical as they are too young to have decided which religion to follow (or reject).

    I would be more concerned about those 0-4 (and 5-9, 10-14) that have been labled a “Christian Child” or “Muslim Child”. As you mentioned, this can’t be a choice they have made.

  • Stev84

    It’s pretty amazing considering that the country was a Catholic theocracy as late as the early 90s

  • MH

    Me three

  • CultOfReason

    Looks more like a Winter Solstice tree to me.

  • treedweller

    But that graph looks like a Christmas tree. It’s a message from god!

  • treedweller

    Sorry, should have read the other comments before posting.

  • Richard Wade

    The inclusion of children ages 0 to 10 in this survey makes no sense at all. Who the heck are answering for them? Their parents, well, duh.

    The 15 to 19-year-old group remains similarly small, but look at the sudden jump at the 20-year-old mark. It doubles from 8,000 to 16,000. I think as these young people become financially and emotionally independent of their parents, their self-reporting of non-belief or non-adherence explodes. They might have already resolved their views in their minds as teens, but they did not feel comfortable expressing those views openly until they’re out of the house or at least out of the parent-child relationship, and more in the adult-adult relationship with their parents.

    As the wave of non-believers age 20 to 34 moves up the age scale and they begin to have children, I think this chart will lose its Christmas Winter Solstice tree shape, and become more like a big, fat rectangle.

  • Barry

    The question was phrased as what is your religion. Atheisim/agnosticism wasn’t an option so if you had to write those in the other box. Most atheists including Those at atheist Ireland put down no religion as Atheisim isn’t a religion. It’s a poorly phrased question all in all.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    It’s likely that only one person answered the questions for each family. It would be surprising if very many religious people put down their children as ‘No Religion’ just because they were too young to have formed a valid opinion. A good number probably still answered based on their own cultural catholicism and then of course their children would be included.

    Also, I don’t see very many people sitting down and asking their kids what they wanted put in the boxes.

  • Pluto Animus

    In twenty years…

    Agnosticism at four times the previous level, “no religion” at four times the previous level and…

    Atheism at twelve times the previous level.


  • Mcnerneyd

    Given that we’re the second largest “religious” grouping – it’s pretty disingenuous that this group isn’t properly categorised (as atheist Ireland requested).

    I wonder how long they’ll be able to avoid dealing with this.

  • Arthur Byrne

    Probably assigned by the census takers for counting purposes based on parents’ religion. Not really accurate, but good enough for most government work. We can expect deconversions to rise as they get older.

  • Arthur Byrne

     The interesting thing is that if the chart was replotted by birth cohort, it would still indicate a massive rise in numbers. There may be multiple factors in play: the trend to increasing irreligion in subsequent generations (as they mature to independence), but also an increasing irreligion within generational cohorts over time.

  • Arthur Byrne

     The US Pew Forum does some international surveys; if they do two major samples, separated by five years, it will probably indicate similar growth in atheism and agnosticism even relatively within the rising Nones as in the US. At that point, it will probably be harder to ignore.

  • Arthur Byrne

    Logistic curve growth limits may kick in before that.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Maybe it’s a generational thing, but to me that graph is just too damn confusing. 

  • HughInAz

    I grew up in Ireland, and once had a temporary job compiling statistics at a university. I would take in student registration forms and put numerical codes next to each response (in the “office use only” section – this was way back before optical scanning etc.) and then a data entry person would enter the codes in the computer. People had to put down their religion, and there were various codes – 1 for Catholic, 2 for Protestant etc. There was no code for atheist or agnostic or “no religion”, and I was supposed to enter the code for “did not answer”. There were quite a few nonreligious people even back then, but it was difficult to be “out” about it. I’m glad things are changing.

  • Richard Raymond

    I started as a youngster as no religion interesting me, but having a belief that there was a god.  Now, at 63, I’m a full blown agnostic/atheist (no one can be absolutely sure of anything),  and an anti-theist.   Thank you Catholic Church for proving yourself a hypocrite, child-abuse supporter, money and power seeker.   The truth hurts doesn’t it? 

  • Rosemary

    The bottom table is statistical nonsense. The “net” numbers are useless as a yard stick because the population will increase in every category.  The “net” figures for general population increase are not listed.  Nor is the “net” figures for belief in a god. 

      What is needed the percentage of population in each category each year of sampling. 

    And what sense is there in sampling 0-4 year olds?  Half of them can’t even talk, let alone formulate a concept of a god.

  • Sandra Duffy

    We’re still the only western country that demands complete control over the uteri of Irish women so that theocracy isn’t dead yet. Thankfully most Irish women can just give the finger to the state and the priests and hop over to the UK for necessary services. Which reminds me – I hope you’re all voting for Obama. You don’t want your rights to control your reproduction going backwards to meet ours!

  • Guest

    No religion does not mean no god. Many people who did not believe in specific gods in the past might have attended religious gatherings due to lack of alternative social activities. Anyway, the young have always been known to make foolish decisions that they live to regret later in life. Some think they can make good decisions even before they become independent enough to support themselves.

    The young never realize that foolish decisions almost always impact their future. I just read that many actually go back to their religious roots as they get older. Sometimes, it is already too late since their children are already affected by their liberal ways of the past.

  • Rosemary Lyndall Wemm

     Where do you get your statistics from?  They don’t appear to be reliable and unbiased.