Christian faith declines from generation to generation

In the 27th issue of the journal Social Change in Switzerland, Jörg Stolz and Jeremy Senn trace the evolution of religion in Switzerland from 1930 to 2020. Secularisation in Switzerland can be explained by the renewal of cohorts. Society is becoming less religious not because adults are losing their faith, but because older, more religious generations are being replaced by new, less religious generations.  

The two researchers from the University of Lausanne study the evolution of religious practice and belief in Switzerland on the basis of more than 30,000 respondents. They show that weekly church attendance in Switzerland has been steadily declining since the 1980s. Each generation goes to church less often than the previous one.

The two authors refute the thesis that there is no general decline in religiosity, but rather a change in religious forms. Indeed, a growing proportion of people have not only left churches, but have also given up praying individually. Between 1988 and 2018, the proportion of people praying daily decreased from 43% to 14% of respondents. Belief in God and the Bible has also declined - and here again, cohort replacement is key. However, the indicators of Christian religiosity show different levels of persistence. Secularisation begins with a decline in church attendance, then in faith, and finally in denominational affiliation.

Finally, both authors also refute the thesis that a holistic spiritual revolution of religion has taken place. The importance of spiritual healing or clairvoyance has not increased but decreased over time. The development of religiosity in Switzerland over time thus closely resembles that of most Western countries. Secularisation is largely the result of the replacement of cohorts - a phenomenon of "generations of diminishing faith". 

>> Stolz, Jörg & Senn, Jeremy (2021). Des générations à la foi décroissante : religion et sécularisation en Suisse 1930-2020­. Social Change in Switzerland, N°27, www.socialchangeswitzerland.ch

Contact:

Prof. Jörg Stolz, University of Lausanne, +41 79 961 51 57, joerg.stolz@unil.ch

The series Social Change in Switzerland continuously documents the evolution of the social structure in Switzerland. It is published jointly by the Swiss Competence Centre for Social Sciences FORS, the Centre for Research on Life Courses and Inequalities (Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Lausanne) LINES and LIVES - The Swiss Competence Centre for Research on Life Courses and Vulnerabilities. The aim is to trace changes in employment, family, income, mobility, voting or gender in Switzerland. Based on state-of-the-art empirical research, it is aimed at a wider audience than just specialists.