According to a Pew Research Center study released in 2012, more than 1.1 billion people—roughly one-in-six (16%) people worldwide at the time—considered themselves "religiously unaffiliated". Alternately titled "irreligious" in some studies, this category includes a whole spectrum of non-believers including atheists who actively reject the notion of supernatural deities, agnostics who believe the existence or nonexistence of deities is unknowable, and people who simply don't identify with any particular religion.
It is worth noting that atheism is not a religion—however, in actively rejecting the existence of spiritual deities, atheism is arguably a spiritual belief. As such, atheism enjoys many of the same constitutional protections as any religion.
Which country has the most irreligious people?
The two lists below display data from a Pew Research Center report that used existing data to project the total number of non-believers per country and the percentage of that country's population they would make up for 2020.
Top 10 Least Religious Countries (by percentage) - Pew Research 2020
- Czech Republic - 78.4%
- North Korea - 71.3%
- Estonia - 60.2%
- Japan - 60%
- Hong Kong (China) - 54.7%
- China - 51.8%
- South Korea - 46.6%
- Latvia - 45.3%
- Netherlands - 44.3%
- Uruguay - 41.5%
Top 10 Least Religious Countries (by total non-believers) - Pew Research 2020
- China - 720,100,000
- Japan - 74,780,000
- United States - 62,310,000
- Vietnam - 28,760,000
- South Korea - 23,250,000
- Russia - 21,190,000
- Germany - 21,150,000
- France - 20,830,000
- United Kingdom - 20,070,000
- North Korea - 18,070,000
In terms of sheer numbers, China is the least religious country, home to more than 50% of religiously unaffiliated people in the world. Fewer than 10% of residents stated that they feel religious in this nation, and over 60% are "convinced atheists." That said, China is also the world's most populous country, and when looking at the percent of residents who are irreligious, several smaller countries eclipse China's level of non-belief.
Top 10 Least Religious Countries - Public Perception
When it comes to public perception, the results are a bit different. A survey of over 16,000 people's personal perceptions chose Australia as the least religious country in the world, followed by Sweden and Germany. The complete lack of Asian, African, and South American countries on the list arguably calls into question the geographical knowledge and/or location of the survey participants.
Number of religiously unaffiliated people worldwide compared to major religions
- Christianity - 2.38 billion
- Islam - 1.91 billion
- Unaffiliated/irreligious - 1.19 billion
- Hinduism - 1.16 billion
- Buddhism - 507 million
- Folk Religions (African traditional, Native American, Chinese folk, etc.) - 430 million
- Other Religions (Taoism, Sikhism, Wicca, etc.) - 61 million
- Judaism - 14.6 million