Census: Small rise in Estonia in those with no religious beliefs

Interior of the Lutheran Kaarli kirik (St. Charles' Church) in Tallinn.
Interior of the Lutheran Kaarli kirik (St. Charles' Church) in Tallinn. Source: ERR

The proportion of the overall Estonian population who express no religious affiliation has risen, according to a survey by state agency Statistics Estonia which formed a part of the 2021 population census.

The largest single denomination in Estonia by adherents remains Eastern Orthodoxy, the agency adds, while Lutheranism has seen a fall.

A total of 29 percent of the population is estimated to adhere to one set of religious beliefs, the survey, reflecting results from 2021, found, a share which is unchanged on previous censuses, while the proportion of the population who do not have any expressed religious affiliation has risen, from 54 percent in 2011 to 58 percent last year, Statistics Estonia says.

Commenting on the results, Terje Trasberg, leading analyst at Statistics Estonia, said: "The rise is due to the fact that this time around there were fewer people who did not wish to answer the religion question, so it can be assumed that they now held a more definite view."

The largest Christian denominations by adherents in Estonia remain Orthodoxy and Lutheranism.

Eastern Orthodox Christians make up 16 percent, and Lutherans 8 percent, of the total populace.

While the share of people feeling an affiliation to Orthodoxy has remained unchanged, the proportion of people with an affiliation to Lutheranism has been on a downward trend, the agency says: In the 2000 census, 14 percent of persons reported an affiliation to Lutheranism, whereas by 2011 the share had fallen to 10 percent, to last year's figure of 8 percent.

Those with "other" religious affiliations account for 5 percent of the population, Statistics Estonia says.

Christianity remains the most widespread overall relgion in Estonia.

Of those who expressed any affiliation to a religion in 2021, 93 percent were Christians, down from 97 percent in 2011.

Adherents to Roman Catholicism saw a small rise in Estonia over the 10 years 2011-2021, from 0.4 percent of the total populace to 0.8 percent.

Islam has seen a rise also, from 0.1 percent in 2011 to 0.5 percent last year.

As noted, 29 percent of Estonia's population said they feel an affiliation to a religion, whereas 58 percent said they did not, plus 13 percent were unwilling or unable to answer the question.

Older people tended to express more religiosity than younger people, the agency found.

Trasberg said: "With almost all religions, the proportion of younger followers is lower than that of older followers."

The survey's demographic breakdown was as follows (source: Statistics Estonia).

  • By gender: 32 percent of women respondents reported a religious affiliation, compared with 25 percent of men. Similarly, 63 percent of men respondents said they were non-believers in any faith, compared with 55 percent of women.
  • By age: Among respondents aged 65 and over, 43 percent reported religious affiliations compared with 14 percent in the 15-29 age group.
  • By education: The share of those with higher education who expressed a religious affiliation was 34 percent, compared with those who had completed high school at 28 percent, and 21 percent of those with basic education.
  • By ethnicity: 17 percent of Estonians reported religious faith affiliation; 71 percent reported no religious beliefs. 11 percent of these said they were Lutheran; 3 percent, Eastern Orthodox. Among 'slavs', Statistics Estonia says, the proportions expressing religious adherence were much higher, ranging from 54 percent to 65 percent among Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian respondents to the survey – with 47 to 58 percent of respondents from these ethnic groups reporting allegiance to Eastern Orthodoxy. 
  • People of "other nationalities" were most likely to be affiliated with Orthodoxy (15 percent of respondents) and Islam (14 percent), the survey reported.

The survey was conducted as part of the population and housing census carried out late 2021/early 2022, and asked respondents, aged 15 and over, if they had any religious affiliation. The survey was conducted online and over the phone.

More detailed information is here, here and here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: Statistics Estonia

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