Ekklesia, 25 Nov 2005 — The report, ‘Driven to disaffection: Religious independents in Northern Ireland’, says that the Catholic Church in Ireland has seen a sharp drop in those going to Mass – from 90 per cent to 62 per cent of the population in just 15 years.
Based on a statistical accumulation of surveys conducted between 1989 and 2004, the study found that whereas Catholics were more likely to remain loyal to the Church but attend it less, Protestants tended to move away from affiliation altogether.
The number of Presbyterians attending church was also found to have dropped from just under 50 per cent in 1989 to 40 per cent by 2004, and there was a similar fall in attendance for the Church of Ireland (Anglican) from slightly under 40 per cent in 1989 to 35 per cent in 2004.
Professor Ian McAllister, one of the researchers of the report, also found a sharp rise in religious non-affiliation. He said: “The 1951 census recorded only 221 freethinkers and 64 atheists, amounting to 0.02% of the population. In addition, a further 5,865 did not state their religion.”
He noted that in the 2001 13.9 per cent now described themselves as having no religion or refused to state a religion, whilst the 2004 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey found 11.5 per cent described themselves as religious “independents”.
The reasons attributed to this development includes lifestyle changes such as extended years of education and delayed marriage, known as the “cohort explanation”, which will see the proportion of those without a religion gradually increase as each succeeding age group enters the adult population.
This theory is supported by the research which shows that the youngest group studied – those born between 1985 and 1996 – were the age category with the most likely to have no religion.