How Important is Religion World Wide?

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Originally posted on June 12, 2014.

My last post—noting the new worldwide estimate that 37 percent of men and 38 percent of women are overweight—got me to wondering if we have other examples of all-humanity data. One is our species’ life expectancy, which has risen from 46.5 years in the early 1950s to 70 years today. What a gift—two dozen more years of life!

And then we have new data from the Gallup World Poll which is surveying countries with more than 98 percent of the world’s population. Aggregating data from this resource, Ed Diener, Louis Tay, and I were able to answer (here) this simple question: Asked, “Is religion important in your daily life?,” what percent of humanity will respond “yes”?

The answer: 68 percent. Two in three humans.

When mentioning this answer in talks, I offer, with a smirk, the usual caveat on reporting survey data: We should be cautious about generalizing beyond the population sampled. (These data represent but one species on one planet, and may not represent the views of other life forms elsewhere in the universe.)

What’s striking about each of these all-humanity measures is the extraordinary variation across countries—from 3 percent overweight adults in Timor-Leste to 85 percent in Tonga; from 49 year life expectancy in Chad to 89 in Monaco; from 16 percent for whom religion is important in Estonia to 100 percent in Bangladesh and Niger. We humans are all kin beneath the skin. Yet how we differ.

[A note to our valued readers:  Nathan DeWall and I anticipate a more relaxed two-a-week pace of blogging this summer, and returning to our weekday postings at the summer’s end.]

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About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see