Young Irish people among the most religious in Europe

Ireland among top four of 22 countries surveyed for regular attendance of religious services

Irish people between the ages of 16 and 29 rank among the most religious in Europe, alongside Poles and Lithuanians, a new study has found.

Some 54 per cent of Irish people in this age bracket identify as Catholic, 5 per cent as belonging to other Christian denominations, 2 per cent as being part of a non-Christian religion, and 39 per cent saying they had no religion.

Just 15 per cent attend weekly religious services outside of special occasions such as weddings and funerals, while 26 per cent never take part in any religious services.

However of those younger Irish who identify as Catholic, 24 per cent attend church weekly outside of special occasions, while 10 per cent never do so.


On the question of prayer outside religious services, 31 per cent of young Irish people pray weekly, while the same percentage never pray.

“When it comes to younger Irish Catholics, however, those figures are higher with 43 per cent praying weekly and 16 per cent never praying.”

The study of religious affiliation and practice among young Europeans, aged 16-29, was conducted by two Catholic universities: St Mary’s University, Twickenham in London and the Institut Catholique de Paris. Its findings will inform the work of the 2018 Synod of Bishops, due to be held in Rome next October.

Religious affiliation

The study uses data from the 2014/16 European Social Survey to compare rates of religious affiliation and practice among young adults across 22 countries.

It found the proportion of young adults with no religious affiliation was as high as 91 per cent in the Czech Republic, 80 per cent in Estonia, and 75 per cent in Sweden. In the UK, it was 70 per cent, and in France 64 per cent.

These compare to just 1 per cent in Israel, 17 per cent in Poland, 25 per cent in Lithuania, and 39 per cent in Ireland.

The report's author, Prof Stephen Bullivant, director of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society at St Mary's University, notes: "In only four countries do more than one-in-ten 16-29 year-olds claim to attend religious services on at least a weekly basis: Poland, Israel, Portugal, and Ireland.

“Our other 18 countries are distinctive, despite significant variability in their numbers of religious affiliates, by their relative uniformity of (non) practice. All rank in the single digits, within a narrow range between 2-9 per cent.”

Among young Czechs, 70 per cent never attend religious services. For Spanish, Dutch, UK, and Belgian young people, the figure is around 60 per cent.

Some 80 per cent of young people in the Czech Republic and 70 per cent in Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Holland, France and Norway never pray – more than double the rate in Ireland.

Catholics make up 82 per cent of younger people in Poland, 71 per cent in Lithuania, 55 per cent in Slovenia, 23 per cent in France, and 10 per cent in the UK.

Just 2 per cent of young Catholics in Belgium, 3 per cent in Hungary and Austria, 5 per cent in Lithuania, and 6 per cent in Germany say they attend Mass weekly. This contrasts sharply with their peers in Poland (47 per cent), Portugal (27 per cent), the Czech Republic and Ireland (both at 24 per cent).

Weekly Mass attendance is just 7 per cent among young French Catholics, and 17 per cent among young UK Catholics.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times