Study: Religion May Head Toward ‘Extinction’ in Many Western Countries

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A man stands near the crowned head of a statue of Jesus being built in Swiebodzin, 110 km (68 miles) west of Poznan, western Poland, November 4, 2010. The statue, whose body is 33 metres (108 ft) high, is expected to be completed in November.

REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

If the authors of a new study have it right, then the Pope may want to update his résumé.

That’s because men of the cloth—and religious leaders of any faith, for that matter—will be in less demand as religion slowly dies out as a part of everyday life.

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Researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Arizona gathered census data in nine countries—Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland—where officials have traditionally included questions about religious affiliation in their population count. They found a steady rise in the number of people who claimed no religious affiliation over the past century. And, using “nonlinear modeling,” they unpacked the relationship between religious respondents and their motivation for claiming a religion.

At its core, the research found that the perceived value of joining a religious group has decreased significantly. As the number of non-religious people swells, the appeal of joining their ranks does, too. “For societies in which the perceived utility of not adhering is greater than the utility of adhering, religion will be driven toward extinction,” the study said. “People no longer see the slate of benefits as being as great as they probably did 100 years ago. It’s become less socially useful.”

Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement told the BBC that in the Czech Republic 60% of people identify as non-affiliated with religion—the highest in the study. He also forecast that in the Netherlands the percentage of non-believers will skyrocket from 40% today to 70% by 2050. (via Montreal Gazette)

(More on TIME.com: See how TIME has covered religion through the years)

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