Becoming non-affiliated: a mixed-methods study on leaving the church in Austria and Vienna

Desiree Krivanek, Vienna Institute of Demography
Caroline Berghammer, University of Vienna and Vienna Institute of Demography

The religious composition of the Austrian population changed substantially since the 1960s. The major shift concerned the Catholic church which lost almost 30% of its members; two thirds of the population still belong to this denomination at present. Leaving the church to become non-affiliated is the main driver behind the on-going decline of the Catholic population in Austria, while the contribution of other processes – religious conversion, migration, fertility differentials – is comparatively limited. The aim of the present study is to understand from a life-course perspective the reasons why Catholics drop out of church as well as the timing of their exit, linking it to life events and experiences. This downward trend is expected to continue in the future and Catholics are estimated to be a minority of below 50% by the middle of this century. Vienna reached this number already more than a decade ago in 2001. We base our analyses on retrospective data and combine qualitative and quantitative methods. First, we use 20 qualitative interviews which were conducted in 2012/13 with former Catholics who had dropped out of church and employ Grounded Theory to analyse their reasons. Second, we use the Generations and Gender Survey 2012/13, a representative sample of 3,157 Catholic and non-affiliated respondents. These data contain information on the time of leaving the church and are analysed with event history analysis. Throughout this study, we will focus on the regional distinction between Austria and Vienna which is in the vanguard of the secularisation development.

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Presented in Poster Session 3