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Belief in afterlife declines with age, poll suggests

07 May 2021


AS WE age, we are less likely to believe in some form of life after death, a new poll suggests.

Analysts have suggested that the high levels of belief in an afterlife among young adults are due to the popularity of the idea in video games, films, and music.

A survey of 5027 adults in Britain, the United States, and Canada found that the majority of respondents believed in some form of an afterlife: 68 per cent in the US, 55 per cent in Britain, and 51 per cent in Canada.

When the figures are broken down by age, however, it showed that, in the UK at least, younger adults were more likely to believe in an afterlife than older adults. In Britain, 64 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds believed that they would continue to exist in some form after they had died, compared with 37 per cent of those over-65s.

In the US, more adults believed in some form of afterlife, and the belief remained consistently high across age groups. In Canada, there was a small decline in belief in an afterlife across age ranges, but Britain experienced the biggest drop in belief according to age.

One third of people surveyed also believed that they would meet someone again who had died. This belief was strongest in the US, where nearly half the respondents believed that they could communicate with a loved one after death, compared with three in ten people in Britain and Canada.

A similar trend emerged in the question about the ability to converse with someone who had died: 44 per cent in the US, 40 per cent in Canada. and 36 per cent in British believed that it was possible to communicate with someone beyond the grave. Of those who said that it was possible, most felt that they had been in communication with someone who had died.

Many also believed that the dead were still aware of what was happening in the lives of the living. This belief was again more widespread in the US: 59 per cent, compared with 45 per cent in Britain.

People were also asked about their private prayer life; American respondents were much more likely than Canadians or British to say that they prayed often. Almost half (48 per cent) the Canadians admitted to never praying privately, followed by 42 per cent of British respondents, and 21 per cent of the Americans.

Professor Reginald Bibby, a sociologist at the University of Lethbridge, in Canada, worked with Maru Public Opinion to carry out the survey, undertaken over four days in March. He has been monitoring social trends through surveys for 50 years.

He said that the higher number of Americans holding beliefs about an afterlife reflected the fact that one in three in the US identified as Evangelical or conservative Protestant, compared with one in ten in Canada, and just one in 25 in Britain.

The decline in belief in an afterlife according to age was due to two factors, Professor Bibby said. “Global emphases in exploding social and conventional media entertainment forms including music, movies, and video games, for example, that have given considerable attention and thereby credibility to ‘the life after’ and life-stage, where education, in particular, results in many people proceeding to discard such ideas about communication with the dead as they grow older.

“What remains significant, however, is the prevalence of such ideas, regardless of where one resides. They should not be superficially dismissed.”


Leader comment, page 10

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