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This comes from the Daily Mail, of all places. Oh, the cognitive dissonance that must have been going on there! The actual headline reads: “Countries with a strong religious culture are WORSE at maths and science, study claims”. They love a capitalisation, and the use of “claims” kind of says it all (though is technically correct, I suppose).

  • Researchers looked at 82 countries and ranked them by ‘religiosity’ 

  • Their study found a negative correlation between religion and education

  • The UK ranked 14th in the list while the United States came in at 51st

The role of religion in an increasingly secular world is a hotly debated topic.

But a new scientific study indicates that children raised in religious societies perform worse in maths and science at school than their atheist or agnostic counterparts.

The team behind the research suggests that standards in these subjects could be raised by keeping religion out of educational institutions.

The research was a joint effort between psychologists at Leeds Beckett University and the University of Missouri.

It revealed that the more religious a country is, the lower its students performance in these two key areas.

The study showed that there was a negative correlation between the amount of time children spent on religious activities and their educational attainment.

Dr Gijsbert Stoet, co-author of the study, said: ‘Science and mathematics education are key for modern societies.

‘Our research suggests that education might benefit from a stronger secular approach.

‘The findings support the idea of a “displacement hypothesis” that when children spent more of their time on religion, they will spend less time on other things.’…

Using a scale of zero to ten, they ranked 82 countries by their ‘religiosity score’.

Out of the countries analysed, the five least religious countries were shown to be Czech Republic, Japan, Estonia, Sweden and Norway.

The five most religious countries were Qatar, Indonesia, Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan….

In the large majority of countries – including the UK – women were found to be more religious than men, but this was not found to affect differences in their educational performance.

The study also suggests that levels of economic development and time spent on religious education itself played a role in students’ attainment.

The journal Intelligence hosts the article, which has the abstract:


Countries with higher levels of religiosity had lower educational performance.

Women were more religious, but this was unrelated to educational performance.

Levels of national development and time spent on religious education played a role.


We compared the relation between educational performance scores in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) on the one hand, and religiosity, as measured with the World Values Survey and the European Social Survey, on the other hand. We found that higher levels of religiosity (at national level) were associated with lower educational performance in science and mathematics (rs ranging from − 0.65 to − 0.74). One of the unique contributions of our data set is the ability to examine these trends by sex. Interestingly, even though women reported considerably higher levels of religiosity than men, this gap was not related to sex differences in educational performance. This latter finding constrains conclusions about the possible causal pathways between education, religiosity, and intelligence. Further, the mediating role of human development and time spent on religious education appear to account for the relation between education and religiosity. One possibility is that the relation between education and religiosity at the national level is related to overall levels of economic and human development, including investment in secular education.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...