Religiosity dynamics among immigrants and their descendants in France

The French population has continued to become more secularized over the last several decades: nearly half of French people state they have no religion. Catholicism remains the country’s first religion but the number of believers continues to fall. In a context where religion’s hold continues to weaken, a situation reinforced by the French policy framework of “laïcité”, how do immigrants and immigrants’ children feel about their religion(s)?
Immigration does of course modify French society’s religious structures but it also impacts on immigrants’ own religiosity.

The religious profile of immigrants and the second generation

Whereas prior to the 1950s immigrants to France came from European countries where Catholicism was the majority religion, since that time most immigrants have come from countries where Islam is the main—and in many cases official—religion. Three-fourths of immigrants and immigrants’ descendants aged 18 to 50 residing in metropolitan France state they have a religion, while 45% of all individuals meeting those age and residence criteria say they are agnostic or atheist.

Religiosity varies by origin and religion

Religion assumes a cultural and social function in immigrant communities that it has partially lost for the majority population. Nevertheless, religiosity varies in intensity by origin and is strongest among Muslims and Jews: approximately 75% of these groups say that religion plays an important role in their lives.
Children of two immigrant parents—primarily Muslim ones—show stronger religiosity and sharply lower rates of religious disaffection than the majority population, particularly Catholics but also children of “mixed” couples. In fact, religious mix in couples (one religious and one atheist parent, for example, or parents of two different religions) leads to a fall in religious transmission.

Typology of parent-child transmission of religion by connection to migration, France

Population: individuals aged 18 to 50 who grew up in a family with a stated religion, Interpretation: 56% of people in the majority group are more secularized than their parents; 37% have the same degree of religiosity; 8% are more religious than their parents. Source: TeO survey, INED-INSEE 2008.

Generally speaking, the religiosity of children of immigrants from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and Turkey is high, whereas religiosity among descendants of immigrants from Southern Europe and Southeast Asia is decreasing. In reality, these differences by origin reflect differences between religions.
On the other hand, only for a minority of immigrants’ descendants has religious feeling grown stronger: slightly over half of immigrants’ children aged 18 to 50 living in metropolitan France think of themselves as less religious than their parents; 40% say their degree of religious feeling is about the same as their parents’, while approximately 7% see themselves as more heavily invested in religion.

Source: Cris Beauchemin, Christelle Hamel et Patrick Simon (dir.), 2016, Trajectoires et origines. Enquête sur la diversité des populations en France, Ined , Collection : Grandes Enquêtes, Paris
Contact: Cris BeaucheminChristelle Hamel et Patrick Simon
Online : November 2016