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Americans and Canadians are quite similar in many ways. We are both largely of European origin. We both stole the land from the Natives by conquest, extermination and assimilation. Most of us speak English. We share a single entertainment colossus. We had the longest undefended border in the world, until recently. We can drive for miles in each other's country without any obvious signs that we are in a foreign country, until we come upon a Tim Horton's Donuts store, an Arco service station, or a national flag. 

But there are differences. Canadians have been described as "Americans without guns but with universal health care." This hints at some of our distinctions. On gun control, it has been suggested that many Americans value freedom over social stability. Many Canadians value the reverse. Canadians view universal access to health care as a moral issue for which they are willing to pay additional taxes in order to make certain that nobody goes without health care because they are too poor to pay for it. Many Americans would probably agree, but that country still lacks a universal health care system.

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Some specific similarities and differences:

In some ways, religious expression in the two countries are very different; in others they are quite similar:

bulletIn 2001:
bullet76.5% of Americans and 72% of Canadians identified themselves as Christians.
bulletThe rate of decline of Christianity is equal to about 0.9 percentage points per year in both countries.
bullet24.5% of Americans and 43% of Canadians identified themselves as Roman Catholic.
bullet52% of Americans and 31% of Canadians said that they were Protestants or Eastern Orthodox.
bulletThe fastest growing religion, in percentage terms, in both countries is Wicca.
bulletIn 2002:
bulletThe percentage of the public who consider religion important differed greatly: 59% in the U.S. and 30% in Canada.

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Religious Affiliation

The largest religions in both countries are not that much different: 

Item USA 1 Canada 2
Christianity  85% 77%
Atheism, Agnosticism, no religious affiliation  9.1% 17%
Judaism  1.7% 1.1%
Islam *  1.2% 2.0%

* Estimates vary widely; some are as high as 7% in the U.S..

Within Christianity, there are major differences between the two countries, particularly over the ratio of Protestants to Roman Catholics:

Faith group USA  Canada 2
Roman Catholic 23% 1 43%
Protestant 60% 3,4 29%
Eastern Orthodox 2.0% 3,4 1.7%

Among the Protestant churches, the most popular denomination is:

bulletIn the U.S., the Southern Baptist Convention -- a very conservative group.
bulletIn Canada, the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada -- two relatively liberal groups

Although these data are generally accepted and often reported in the media, their accuracy is open to question. Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch (TNS) conducted a Millennium Study comparing people's religious beliefs in different countries, and found a totally different distribution of religious affiliation: 5

Item USA 1 Canada 2
Christianity 57% 63%
     Roman Catholic 24% 41%
     Protestant 17% 14%
     Other Christian 16% 8%
Judaism  2% 1%

less than 1%

Hindu 1% less than 1%
Buddhism 1% 1%
Other 28% 18%
None 9% 12%

One wonders what exact affiliation are of:

bulletthe 16% of American Christians who are neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant. (8% in Canada)
bulletthe 28% of Americans who say they follow "other" religions. (18% in Canada)

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The Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch (TNS)  Millennium Study polled over 50,000 participants in 60 countries, including 1,000 Americans and 1,000 Canadians. Results were announced on 1999-DEC-9. 5 On their web site, they list a great deal of additional data, including breakdowns by age, marital status, and educational attainments. 

Item USA Canada
Where is religious truth found?
     There is only one true religion 21% 15%
     There are many true religions 71% 66%
     There is no true religion 5% 13%
Importance of God in one's life (1..10)
     5 or less (low importance) 13% 31%
     6 to 8 18% 26%
     9 or 10   (high importance)           68% 41%
Nature of God
     Personal God exists 64% 44%
     A spirit or life force exists 28% 37%
     Don't know 5% 10%
     Nonexistent 2% 6%
End of the world expectations 6
Events mentioned in Revelation will occur  42% 17%


bulletSome subjects might have defined "religion" as referring to various denominations -- e.g. Southern Baptist, Roman Catholic, etc. Others might have defined "religion" as referring a world religion -- e.g. Christianity, Buddhism, etc. Results are difficult to interpret.
bulletAmericans' religious beliefs appear to be far more traditional than those for Canadians.

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Back in the mid-1950s, "60 per cent of Canadians told pollsters that they went to church each Sunday; the proportion in the U.S. at that time was only 50 percent." 8 Attendance figures have definitely reversed between the two countries since that time. In less than a generation, Canadians have changed from being much more religious than Americans, to being less so.

From the TNS study: 5

Item USA Canada
Attendance at religious services
     once a week or more * 43% 20%
     once a month 11% 12%
     less often than once a month 23% 26%
     never, practically never  8% 38%
Engage in prayer or meditation
     yes 87% 68%
     no 13% 31%

* "Nose-counting" surveys in some counties of the U.S. and Canada has shown that the actual attendance is about half of that shown. People don't answer pollsters' questions accurately on some topics. They seem to answer what they feel that they should be doing instead.

The high level of religious liberalism and secularism in Canada may well contribute to their rejection of patriarchal authority in the family. Between 1992 and 2000. the percentage of Canadian adults who agreed that "[t]he father of the family must be master in his own home" dropped from 26 to 18%. However, the gradual shifting towards conservative religious beliefs in the U.S. may be responsible for an increase in acceptance of patriarchal authority. The corresponding figures for the U.S. rose from 42% to 49% over the same interval. 9

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Women's issues:

Author Michael Adams states that only 18% of Canadian women of child-bearing age practice their religion on a weekly basis. 7 This is about half the corresponding rate found in the U.S. (34%).  Perhaps influenced by this high level of secularism among Canadian women, the fertility rate there is much lower than in the U.S.: 1.49 children per Canadian woman in 2001. This compares 2.01 children in the U.S., which is close to the replacement level needed to maintain the population at a constant value. To maintain the present growth of the Canadian population, at about 1% a year, Canada is forced to rely heavily on immigration. This in turn will assure that the membership of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and other religious minorities in the country will grow at an accelerated rate.

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  1. The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1999, World Almanac Books, Mahwah NJ
  2. "Religion (95A), Age Groups (7A) and Sex (3) for Population, for Canada, Provinces, Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas 1 and Census Agglomerations, 1991 and 2001 Censuses - 20% Sample Data," Statistics Canada, at: http://www12.statcan.ca/ This list also gives membership breakdowns by age groups.
  3. The Religious Landscape of the United States", United States Information Agency, US Society and Values magazine, 1997-MAR.
  4. The Pluralism Project at Harvard University has a web site at: http://www.pluralism.org/. They distribute an impressive CD.
  5. GIA Millennium Study, Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch, at: http://www.intersearch.tnsofres.com/gia/religion.htm
  6. Angus Reid survey, 1996. Quoted in Lesley Scrivener, "Is our world due for Armageddon?" Toronto Star, 1999-DEC-112, Page F3.
  7. Michael Adams, "Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the myth of converging values," Penguin Canada, (2003). Page 100. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  8. Ibid, Page 50.
  9. Ibid, Page 51.

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Copyright information

Statistics Canada information is used with the permission of Statistics Canada. Users are forbidden to copy the data and redisseminate them, in an original or modified form, for commercial purposes, without the expressed permission of Statistics Canada. Information on the availability of the wide range of data from Statistics Canada can be obtained from Statistics Canada's Regional Offices, its World Wide Web site at http://www.statcan.ca, and its toll-free access number 1-800-263-1136.

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Site navigation: Home page Religious information > Basic info > Canada > here

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Copyright © 1999 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-DEC-13
Latest update: 2005-DEC-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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