Orthodox Christianity now the prevalent faith in Estonia

According to the 2021 census, 58% of the people residing in Estonia don’t feel an affiliation to any religion, and this has increased from 54% in 2011; 29% are estimated to be affiliated with a religion and the most prevalent faith in Estonia is Orthodox Christianity.

Information on religion was collected in the population and housing census, which took place from the end of 2021 to the beginning of 2022. All people aged 15 and over were asked whether they had a religious affiliation.

The results of the census show that 29% of Estonia’s population feel an affiliation to a religion, whereas 58% do not and 13% were not willing to answer this question.

“Therefore, the proportion of the religiously affiliated has remained stable but the share of people who do not have an affiliation to any religion has risen compared with previous censuses: from 54% in 2011 to 58% in 2021,” Statistics Estonia, the country’s official statistics agency, said in a statement.

Orthodoxy and Lutheranism the most common denominations

“The increase is due to the fact that this time 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,” Terje Trasberg, a leading analyst at Statistics Estonia, said.

The most common denominations are still Orthodoxy and Lutheranism. Orthodox Christians make up 16% and Lutherans 8% of the populace. People with other religious affiliations account for 5% of the population.

Tõstamaa St Mary’s Lutheran Church.

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: in the 2000 census, 14% of persons were affiliated with Lutheranism, whereas by 2011 their share had fallen to 10%, and now it is only 8%, according to the census.

When it comes to different religions, Christianity is the most widespread in Estonia. Of those who feel an affiliation to a religion, 93% are now Christians, down from 97% in 2011. An increase by 0.4 percentage points was recorded in the proportion of Muslims (0.1% in 2011 and 0.5% in 2021).

Older people more religious than younger

Religious affiliation varies by gender, age, educational attainment and nationality, among other factors. Women are more likely than men to have an affiliation to a religion – 32% of women report having a particular religious affiliation and 55% are non-believers, while 25% of men are religiously affiliated and 63% are non-believers.

While 43% of people aged 65 and over feel an affiliation to a religion, only 14% of people in the 15–29 age group do.

In terms of educational attainment, the share of people with a religious affiliation is larger among people with higher education – 34%. Among people with secondary education, 28% report being affiliated with a religion, and the corresponding figure for people with basic education is 21%.

An Estonian village of Russian Old Believers in Piirissaar. The Old Believers have lived in Estonia on the coast of Lake Peipsi since the late 17th century. Photo by Ingvar Pärnamäe.

Slavic people considerably more religious

Compared with other major ethnic groups living in this country, Estonians are the least religiously affiliated nationality – only 17% of them have an affiliation to a religion, while 71% are non-believers.

The percentage of the religiously affiliated is higher among Slavic people – 65% of Belarusians, 56% of Ukrainians and 54% of Russians feel an affiliation to a religion.

Half, or 50%, of people of Russian nationality feel an affiliation of Orthodoxy, compared with 47% of Ukrainians and 58% of Belarusians.

The most prevalent religion among Estonians, however, is Lutheranism – 11% of them feel affiliated with it, while 3% have an affiliation to Orthodoxy.

Read also: Estonians – the nation of neo-Pagans?

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