World Values Survey (Canada) Immigrant and native born respondent comparisons

3. Religion

The 2006 and 2001 World Values Survey probe respondents' religious values with 14 questions. Some ask directly about subjective religiosity, the importance of religion in peoples' lives. Others probe respondents' views about the moral authority of the Church. The most recent data available from 2006 are complemented with cross-time comparisons from the 2001 WVS and NIS data.

The first two indicators of religious outlooks confirm a general trend observed both from previous waves of the World Values Survey (Nevitte, 1996; Inglehart, 1997) and from Census data over the past thirty years (Statistics Canada, 2003): participation in, and identification with, organized religion is on the decline. Figure 3-1 and Table 3-1 show the results of the question: “Independently of whether you attend religious services or not, would you say you are a…religious person, not a religious person, or an atheist?” The data show that, with the exception of earlier immigrants, the personal religiosity of respondents—those who claim to be a "religious person"—has decreased since at least 2001. Among Canadian born respondents there has been a decline of over 7 percentage points. The decline in levels of personal religiosity among recent immigrants is almost 5 percentage points.

Despite the common trends, however, on balance the personal religiosity of recent immigrants is still noticeably lower than other Canadians. More than 70 percent of Canadian born and earlier immigrant respondents report that they are "religious" in 2006 compared to only 56 percent of recent immigrants (Table 3-1). This coincides with the data on religious denomination membership (Table 2-4): The most frequently reported religious denomination for Canadian born respondents is Catholicism, while for earlier immigrants, the most frequently reported denomination is Protestantism. For recent immigrants, 35.9 percent claim no religious denomination, followed by 17.0 percent who identify as Muslim.

Question: Independently of whether you attend religious services or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person, or an atheist?

Table 3-1: Religious identification
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
Religious 70.1% 71.3% 55.7%
Not religious 24.3% 24.2% 37.0%
Atheist 5.7% 4.5% 7.3%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  (n=1,730) (n=289) (n=560)

N = 2,579
Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Figure 3-1: Percentage identifying as religious

Figure 3-1: Percentage identifying as religious
Text version: Percentage identifying as religious
  2001 2006
Canadian Born 77.5% 70.1%
Earlier Immigrants 71.0% 71.3%
Recent Immigrants 60.1% 55.7%

Source: 2001 and 2006 World Values Survey
N=2,747 (2001) and N=2,579 (2006)

Attendance at religious ceremonies has also declined among all Canadians. There are variations between Canadian born, recent immigrant, and earlier immigrant respondents. But across all three groups, the data show that attendance at religious ceremonies has declined since 2001 (Figure 3-2 and Figure 3-3). The decline is modest, but the trends are in the same direction.

Question: Apart from weddings and funerals, about how often do you attend religious services these days? More than once a week, once a week, once a month, only on holy days, once a year, less often, or never/practically never.

Table 3-2: Church attendance
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
More than once a week 5.7% 9.2% 12.0%
Once a week 18.2% 23.1% 17.9%
Once a month 9.3% 12.9% 9.0%
Only on holy days 16.9% 13.9% 16.8%
Once a year 8.4% 6.1% 6.2%
Less often 8.1% 10.8% 12.4%
Never/practically never 33.4% 24.1% 25.7%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  (n=1,757) (n=295) (n=565)

N = 2,617
Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Figure 3-2: Religious attendance rates

Figure 3-2:Religious attendance rates
Text version: Religious attendance rates
  Once a year or less Only on holy days/once a month Once a week or more
Canadian Born 49.9% 26.2% 23.9%
Earlier Immigrants 41.0% 26.8% 32.3%
Recent Immigrants 44.3% 25.8% 29.9%

Source: 2006 World Values Survey
N=2,617

Figure 3-3: Weekly church attendance: 2001 and 2006

Figure 3-3: Weekly church attendance: 2001 and 2006
Text version: Weekly church attendance: 2001 and 2006
  2001 2006
Canadian Born 26.0% 23.9%
Earlier Immigrants 33.9% 32.3%
Recent Immigrants 31.8% 29.9%

Source: Source: 2001 and 2006 World Values Survey
N=2,788 (2001); N=2,617 (2006)

23.9 percent of Canadian born respondents report attending religious service once a week or more compared to 29.9 percent of recent immigrants and 32.3 percent of earlier immigrants (Table 3-2). The differences in each case are modest but statistically significant (p < .01).

When asked “how important is religion in your life?” the number of Canadian born respondents answering "very important" or "rather important" fell, modestly, by 4 percent between 2001 and 2006. But the number of recent and earlier immigrants who responded that way increased by 2 and 3 percentage points, respectively, over the same period. Granted, these differences are modest and may be attributable to sampling error, but the divide between Canadian born and immigrant groups on this dimension appears to be widening.

Question: How important is religion in your life? Very important, rather important, not very important, or not at all important.

Table 3-3: Importance of religion
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
Very important 31.7% 44.1% 35.5%
Rather important 29.4% 24.6% 25.3%
Not very important 24.5% 21.2% 28.3%
Not at all important 14.4% 10.1% 10.9%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  (n=1,753) (n=297) (n=569)

N = 2,619
Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Figure 3-4: Importance of religion

Figure 3-4: Importance of religion
Text version: Importance of religion
  2001 2006
Canadian Born 64.7% 61.1%
Earlier Immigrants 65.4% 68.7%
Recent Immigrants 58.9% 60.8%

Note: Results are for those responding "very important" or "rather important"
Source: 2001 and 2006 World Values Survey
N=2,781 (2001); N=2,619 (2006)

When asked about personal spirituality—"How important is God in your life?"— Canadian born respondents display almost no change: Between 2001 and 2006, around 60 percent indicated that God is of "high importance"Footnote 2 in their lives (see Figure 3-5). Among immigrant groups, the levels of the importance immigrant groups attach to 'God in their lives,' however, increased. The proportion of earlier immigrants indicating that God is of "high importance" increased by 7 percentage points since 2001 to 70.2 percent in 2006, while the proportion for recent immigrants increased by over 20 percentage points to 61.7 percent.

Figure 3-5: The importance of God in life: 2001 and 2006

Question: How important is God in your life? 1 = Not important at all; 10 = very important. High = those indicating 8, 9, or 10 on the 10 point scale.

Figure 3-5: The importance of God in life: 2001 and 2006
Text version: The importance of God in life: 2001 and 2006
  2001 2006
Canadian Born 60.7% 59.5%
Earlier Immigrants 63.1% 70.2%
Recent Immigrants 38.3% 61.7%

Source: 2001 and 2006 World Values Survey
N=2,552 (2001); N=2,614 (2006)

There are also differences between recent immigrants and others when it comes to personal non-institutional religious and spiritual practices, as indicated by the data in Figure 3-6 and Figure 3-7.

Another dimension of personal spirituality is captured by the question: "Do you take moments of prayer, meditation, contemplation or something like that?" The number of Canadian born and earlier immigrant respondents answering "yes" decreased slightly since 2001, while the number of recent immigrants who answered "yes" increased over the 5 year span. As Figure 3-6 illustrates, over 7 percentage points more Canadian born citizens (81.5 percent) and almost 8 percentage points more earlier immigrants (82.0) took "spare moments of prayer" than recent immigrants (74.3) in 2001. By 2006, the gap between recent immigrants and the other two groups narrowed: the proportion of recent immigrants taking spare moments of prayer increased to 77.7 percent. Over the same period the proportion of Canadian born and earlier immigrant respondents decreased to 78.8 and 80.6 percent, respectively.

Question: Do you take spare moments of prayer, meditation, contemplation or something like that?

Table 3-4: Taking spare moments of prayer, meditation, contemplation
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
Yes 78.8% 80.6% 77.7%
No 21.2% 19.4% 22.3%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  (n=1,757) (n=294) (n=565)

N = 2,616
Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Figure 3-6: Taking spare moments of prayer, meditation, contemplation

Figure 3-6: Taking spare moments of prayer, meditation, contemplation
Text version: Taking spare moments of prayer, meditation, contemplation
  2001 2006
Canadian Born 81.5% 78.8%
Earlier Immigrants 82.0% 80.6%
Recent Immigrants 74.3% 77.7%

Source: 2001 and 2006 World Values Survey
N=2,616

Between 2001 and 2006 the proportion of Canadian born and earlier immigrants who said they "often" thought about the meaning and purpose of life decreased among both Canadian born and earlier immigrant groups by 7 and 4 percentage points respectively. The number of recent immigrants giving that same response over the same period increased by 10 percentage points. The gap between recent immigrants and Canadian born and earlier immigrant groups has widened on this dimension.

Question: How often do you think about the meaning and purpose of life? Often, sometimes, rarely or never.

Table 3-5: Thinking about the meaning of life
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
Often 45.3% 50.0% 65.7%
Sometimes 37.7% 36.1% 30.7%
Rarely 12.7% 9.8% 3.4%
Never 4.3% 4.1% 0.2%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  (n=1,754) (n=296) (n=566)

N = 2,616
Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Figure 3-7: Respondents who “Often” think about meaning of life: 2001 and 2006

Figure 3-7: Respondents who “Often” think about meaning of life: 2001 and 2006
Text version: Respondents who “Often” think about meaning of life: 2001 and 2006
  2001 2006
Canadian Born 52.1% 45.3%
Earlier Immigrants 53.7% 50.0%
Recent Immigrants 55.8% 65.7%

Source: 2001 and 2006 World Values Survey
N=2,785(2001); N=2,616(2006)

Two observations emerge from the results seen so far: First, personal religiosity, as measured by attendance at church services and religious identification, is declining. This trend is the same with personal spirituality. Levels of participation in non-institutional spiritual activities have declined for Canadian born and earlier immigrant respondents. But for recent immigrants, personal spirituality has increased.

Evidence from previous WVS waves show that the decline in personal religiosity since 1981 has been accompanied by a decline in the moral authority of churches in society (Nevitte, 1996). Does the trend continue to hold with these new data?

The WVS asks respondents two batteries of questions about the relationship between church and society. Questions on the moral authority of the church capture perspectives about how much influence people think organized religion ought to have on public life. The first battery of four questions (see Table 3-6 to Table 3-9) ask whether respondents believe churches can provide answers to society's: Moral problems, family problems, spiritual needs, and social problems. The second battery (see Table 3-10 to Table 3-13) probe responses to two sets of statements that tap secular and non-secular views of state-society relations.

For each battery we construct an index that provides a reliable summary overview of respondents' orientations towards (1) church moral authorityFootnote 3 and (2) secularismFootnote 4. A score of 1 on the moral authority index indicates that the respondent fully supports the idea that the church has moral authority on those questions, while a score of 0 indicates no support. Similarly, a score of 4 for the secularism index indicates full agreement with secular values, and a score of 0 indicates full support for non-secular values.

Recent immigrants assign churches higher moral authority than either respondents who were born in Canada or earlier immigrants. Figure 3-8 presents the mean scores for the church moral authority. The differences between immigrants and non-immigrants within each time point (2001 and 2006) are statistically significant (p < .01). In 2006, the mean scores of those in the Canadian born group (0.50) and earlier immigrants (0.52) are similar. Recent immigrants, however, have a slightly higher mean score of 0.62; they are somewhat more likely to believe churches have answers to problems facing society.

Question: Are churches in your country giving adequate answers to: the moral problems and needs of the individual?

Table 3-6: Churches and Moral problems
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
Yes 44.5% 47.8% 63.6%
No 55.5% 52.2% 36.4%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  (n=1,540) (n=247) (n=467)

N = 2,254
Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Question: Are churches in your country giving adequate answers to: the problems of family life?

Table 3-7: Churches and Family problems
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
Yes 44.5% 47.8% 59.5%
No 55.5% 52.2% 40.5%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  (n=1,567) (n=251) (n=476)

N = 2,294
Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Question: Are churches in your country giving adequate answers to: people's spiritual needs?

Table 3-8: Churches and Spiritual needs
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
Yes 75.1% 74.0% 82.6%
No 24.9% 26.0% 17.4%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  (n=1,592) (n=250) (n=494)

N = 2,336
Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Question: Are churches in your country giving adequate answers to: the social problems facing society?

Table 3-9: Churches and Social problems facing society
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
Yes 38.2% 42.5% 46.3%
No 61.8% 57.5% 53.8%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  (n=1,529) (n=240) (n=480)

N = 2,249
Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Figure 3-8: Group scores on the moral authority of the church index

Figure 3-8: Group scores on the moral authority of the church index
Text version: Group scores on the moral authority of the church index
  2001 2006
Canadian Born 0.52 0.50
Earlier Immigrants 0.56 0.52
Recent Immigrants 0.58 0.62

Notes: The church moral authority index consists of four questions: Are churches giving adequate answers to…the moral problems and needs of the individual / the problems of family life / people's spiritual needs / the social problems facing society? Yes or no. Responses of "yes" are scored as 1 and responses of "no" are scored as 0. The scores from all four indicators were then added and divided by the total number of indicators used to construct the index (4). The resulting range of the index is between 0 and 1. Cronbach's alpha reliability score is .803.

Source: 2001 and 2006 World Values Survey
N=2,281 (2001); N = 2,026 (2006)

When it comes to the relationship between religion and politics, all three groups of respondents have predominantly secular perspectives regarding the role of the church in state affairs. Given the country's prevailing tradition of the division between church and state, it would be expected that secular values should predominate. But the question is: To what extent do immigrants subscribe to this value set?

Overall, in 2006, Canadian born respondents are slightly more secular than respondents from the two immigrant groups (a difference of approximately 0.14 on the secularism index). The Canadian born group has a mean score of 2.74, while recent immigrants and earlier immigrants have mean scores of 2.61 and 2.59, respectively. As in the case of variations on the moral authority index, these differences between groups are statistically significant (p < .01).

There are some nuanced differences and similarities between immigrants and non-immigrants. About one in four recent immigrants (24.6 percent) compared to 17 percent of Canadian born and 13 percent of early immigrants think that "politicians who do not believe in God are unfit for office."

But the overwhelming majority of all three groups (80 percent of Canadian born; 79 percent of early immigrants and recent immigrants) believe that religious leaders should not influence how people vote. The same basic pattern applies to views about people with strong religious views holding office and whether or not religious leaders should influence government decisions. Clear minorities—30 percent of recent immigrants, and 25 percent and 22 percent of early immigrants and Canadian born respondent, respectively—think that Canada would be better off if people with strong religious beliefs held public office. And clear majorities in each group (72 percent of Canadian born; 65 percent of early immigrants; and 76 percent of recent immigrants) think that religious leaders should not influence government decisions.

Question: How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements? Politicians who do not believe in God are unfit for office.

Table 3-10: Politicians and belief in God
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
Strongly agree 5.9% 12.9% 9.3%
Agree 11.3% 10.4% 15.3%
Neither 19.6% 16.5% 19.9%
Disagree 38.7% 43.2% 37.0%
Strongly disagree 24.4% 16.9% 18.4%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  (n=1,529) (n=240) (n=480)

N = 2,545
Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Question: How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements? Religious leaders should not influence how people vote.

Table 3-11: Religious leaders and vote influence
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
Strongly agree 35.1% 33.0% 32.6%
Agree 44.8% 46.3% 46.2%
Neither 8.2% 7.0% 9.3%
Disagree 9.1% 11.6% 9.7%
Strongly disagree 2.8% 2.1% 2.3%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  (n=1,739) (n=285) (n=559)

N = 2,583
Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Question: How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements? It would be better for Canada if more people with strong religious beliefs held public office.

Table 3-12: Religious leaders for Canada
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
Strongly agree 4.6% 7.2% 8.5%
Agree 17.8% 18.1% 22.7%
Neither 21.1% 22.1% 25.8%
Disagree 39.3% 36.6% 31.6%
Strongly disagree 17.1% 15.9% 11.3%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  (n=1,709) (n=276) (n=550)

N = 2,535
Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Question: How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements? Religious leaders should not influence government decisions.

Table 3-13: Religious leaders and government decisions
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
Strongly agree 29.1% 24.2% 28.7%
Agree 43.7% 40.4% 47.8%
Neither 11.4% 12.6% 11.0%
Disagree 13.0% 19.6% 10.3%
Strongly disagree 2.9% 3.2% 2.2%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  (n=1,725) (n=285) (n=554)

N = 2,564
Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Figure 3-9: Secular outlooks

Figure 3-9: Secular outlooks
Text version: Secular outlooks
  2001 2006
Canadian Born 2.61 2.74
Earlier Immigrants 2.54 2.59
Recent Immigrants 2.53 2.61

Note: The secularism index is comprised of four questions: How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements? (1) Politicians who do not believe in God are unfit for office / (2) Religious leaders should not influence how people vote / (3) It would be better for Canada if more people with strong religious beliefs held public office / (4) Religious leaders should not influence government decisions. Strongly agree, agree, neither, disagree, or strongly disagree. Responses of "strongly disagree" for questions (1) and (3), and responses of "strongly agree" for questions (2) and (4) are scored as 4. Responses of "strongly agree" for questions (1) and (3) and "strongly disagree" for (2) and (4) are scored as 0. Responses of "agree", "neither", and "disagree" were then assigned an appropriate value, such that "neither" is always scored as 2. The scores from all four indicators were then added and divided by the total number of indicators used to construct the index (4). The resulting range of the index is between 0 and 4. Cronbach's alpha reliability score is .661

Source: 2001 and 2006 World Values Survey
N=2,663 (2001); N = 2,473 (2006)

What explains the differences between groups when it comes to differences in religious outlooks, with differences in personal religiosity the most pronounced? One explanation for these findings is that differences in religious identification are related to background structural factors. Some analyses of religion in Canada (Bibby, 1979) argue that increasing industrialization and increasing levels of education and urbanization, are linked to rising levels of secularization in society. Other work (Nevitte, 1996) confirms that changing moral outlooks are also affected by such changing background structural factors as age and education.

To test whether background structural factors explain the differences observed between the three groups, we take the personal religious identification measure as the dependent variable. As the data in Table 3-1 indicates, recent immigrants differ significantly from others; almost 15 percentage points fewer recent immigrants identify as "religious".

To determine which factors drive these orientations we enter into the multivariate analysis two dummy variables indicating if the respondent is a recent immigrant or born in Canada. Six socioeconomic indicators are also included to determine if structural factors explain the apparent differences in religious identification.

Educational attainment is included to test the expectation that as societies become more secular, educational and scientific institutions begin to fill the social role that religion occupied in agrarian societies (Inglehart, 1988).

Marital status and the respondents' number of children is also included. Religious commitment has been shown to be associated with a variety of dimensions in family life (Thornton et al., 1992). Marriage and procreation, in particular, are highly valued by many religious groups and the presence of children in the family may lead individuals to want to instill religious or moral messages into their children (Greeley, 1989).

Life cycle effects may also have an effect on personal religiosity. Religion is typically less of a preoccupation for younger people seeking independence and autonomy (Wilson and Sherkat, 1994). Age may also reflect generational differences (Nevitte, 1996). And from data presented earlier (Section 1), it is clear that recent immigrants are on average younger than other Canadians.

There is some evidence indicating that there are gender differences in levels of personal religiosity (Levin et al., 1994; Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi, 1975). On balance, women are more religious than men. Thus it is plausible that the differences between recent immigrants and other Canadians may be attributable to the fact that there are slightly more women than men represented in the Canadian born and earlier immigrant samples than in the recent immigrant sample (See Table 1-2).

In addition to these standard SES variables, the analysis also includes variables indicating the ethnic group of the respondent. Evidence from the United States shows that racial group membership (black versus white in the American context) influences an individual's religious experience. Johnson et. al. (1991), theorize that religion plays an important communal and social role in some minority communities. Dummy ethnicity variables in the analysis serve to test this theory.

The results of the multivariate analysis (Table 3-14) indicate that gender, age, martial status and family size are significant determinants of personal religiosity for Canadian born respondents. In particular, those who are older, married, or have more children are more likely than others to identify as 'religious'. Female respondents are also more likely than males to be religious.

The determinants of immigrants' religious identification differ from one another and from Canadian born respondents. Among earlier immigrants, female and married respondents are significantly more likely to be subjectively "religious". And East Asian early immigrants are also less likely than immigrants from other ethnic backgrounds to be "religious". Among recent immigrants, those with larger family sizes are more likely to be religious, along with those identifying as 'black'. Recent East Asian immigrants, however, are less likely to be subjectively religious. And age is a significant factor for non-immigrants when it comes to personal religiosity, but age is not related to personal religiosity for either of the immigrant samples.

Table 3-14: Determinants of religious identification
  Canadian Born Earlier Immigrants Recent Immigrants
B S.E. B S.E. B S.E.
SES Education .023 .141 -.314 .390 -.477 .516
Male -0.568 at p < .01 .114 -.604 .292 .259 .194
Age 1.452 at p < .01 .217 .360 .577 .279 .629
Married .367 at p < .01 .123 0.597 at p < .05 .296 .075 .247
Number of Children 1.146 at p < .01 .354 .143 .839 2.038 at p < .05 .956
Ethnicity Black -.509 .743 .000 1.300 1.720 at p < .05 .711
South Asian .029 .968 -.731 1.206 .856 .585
East Asian -.757 .814 -2.505 at p < .05 1.120 -1.059 at p < .05 .535
Arabic     -.886 1.345 .544 .587
Caucasian -.592 .580 -1.575 1.081 .024 .541
Constant .496 .588 2.312 at p < .05 1.153 .505 .706
Cox & Snell R2 .093   .104   .162  
Nagelkerke R2 .132   .148   .217  
N 1,700   279   533  

Source: 2006 World Values Survey

Given these findings, the fact that recent immigrants are less likely to identify as 'religious' than other respondents can be attributed to demographic factors: Recent immigrants are predominantly East Asian and have fewer children.

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