Against the odds, researchers find an increase in religiosity among young Finnish men

In eight years, the church attendance of men aged 15 to 29 more than doubled. Researchers see no parallels in women or in other Nordic countries.

Santeri Marjokorpi

Uusi Tie · HELSINKI · 18 JANUARY 2024 · 16:26 CET

A young man in Helsinki, Finland. / Photo: <a target="_blank" href="">Ethan Hu</a>, Unsplash, CC0.,
A young man in Helsinki, Finland. / Photo: Ethan Hu, Unsplash, CC0.

The growing role of religion worldwide will particularly be seen in the political context, says Hanna Salomäki, the director of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland’s Church Institute for Research and Advanced Training.

Speaking at the theological conference of Perusta magazine in early January, Salomäki mentioned how the world’s economic powers have connections with a range of religions. Hence, the influence of faith will not disappear from the world in the future.

According to Salomäki, Western countries are the exception to the global rise in religiosity. In regions like Europe and North America, participation in religious events is decreasing, and membership in religious communities is declining. This is a sharp contrast with the rest of the world.


Finland versus other Nordic countries

Salomäki described how in all the Nordic countries, the membership numbers of national churches have been steadily declining, as well as the number of baptisms. In Sweden, the decline in baptisms has been the most significant, with only 35 percent of the age group being baptised in 2021.

Although a similar decline has occurred in Finland, church services (baptisms, weddings, burials) are still meaningful to many. Especially the burial service was considered important by over two-thirds of Finns. However, Salomäki noted a generational change here, as young people do not hold Christian burial as important as older generations.

In any case, church attendance in Finland is not very frequent. The group of regular attendees has remained quite stable over the past years.


The awakening of young men

In Western countries, religious generations are being replaced by less religious ones. Salomäki stated that there are also no signs of people becoming more religious as they age.

However, in Finland, an exceptional rise in religiosity has been observed, especially among young men. This is evident, for example, in the participation of 15 to 29-year-old men in church services. In 2011, only 5 percent of men attended church monthly, while in 2019, that figure rose to 12 percent. The corresponding figures for women of the same age group was much lower: 3 and 4 percent.

Young men who prayed at least once a week went from being 16 percent in 2011 to 26 percent in 2019. Meanwhile, women’s prayers were decreasing.

Belief in God was professed by 19 percent of men aged 15-19 in 2011, while in 2019, the figurr had risen to 43 percent.

According to Salomäki, this significant change is very exceptional if compared with other countries. Nowhere elsein the continent has similar religiosity among young men been observed, which is greater than that among women and has increased compared to older age groups. No comprehensive explanation has been found, the researcher added.


Religiosity as a minority identity

Currently, about half of Finns consider themselves religious and the other half non-religious. For an increasing number of Finns, religiosity is a minority identity.

This is particularly a reality among those born in the 1990s. Of this age group, 27 percent of men and 19 percent of women consider themselves religious. In contrast, in the over-50 age groups, religious people are still a majority.

Research also shows that peer groups significantly influence people’s religious choices. Salomäki highlighted how the decision to baptise depends strongly on the actions of one’s close circle. If friends in the circle have baptized their children, almost everyone does so. However, if hardly anyone baptises their child in that circle, very few choose to do so.

Even though people emphasise their own choice in surveys, they seem to act according to their peer group.


Homes play a central role in passing faith to children

The most significant factor explaining an individual’s connection to religion, said Salomäki, is home upbringing. Its importance has only increased in the 2010s, as school education has become thinner in terms of religious content than before. A big question is how religious communities can support religious home upbringing.

Studies show that religiosity is best conveyed to the new generation if there is a warm emotional climate in the family. There could be families, for instance, where there is frequent attendance at church and religious events, but faith is hardly ever discussed at home. This lack of spiritual conversation makes the transfer of faith to the next generation harder.

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