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Witchcraft Believers in Sub-Saharan Africa Rate Lives Worse

Witchcraft Believers in Sub-Saharan Africa Rate Lives Worse

by Bob Tortora

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Belief in witchcraft is widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, according to recent Gallup surveys, and potentially affects how those who believe see their lives. Studies in 18 countries show belief varies, but on average, 55% of residents personally believe in witchcraft.


Highlighting the potential implications these beliefs have, those in sub-Saharan Africa who believe in witchcraft rate their lives -- their evaluative well-being -- worse than those who don't. Gallup asks respondents to rate the status of their lives on a ladder scale, based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, with steps numbered 0 to 10, with 10 being the best possible life. Those who believe in witchcraft rate their lives at a 4.3 on average, while those who do not believe or don't have an opinion rate their lives higher on the scale, at 4.8 on average.

Overall, those who are more likely to believe are more likely to be older and less educated. They are also more likely to have lower household incomes and say they are getting by or struggling to get by on this income. But after taking these factors into account, across all demographics, evaluative well-being is still lower among those who believe in witchcraft. Even among the most educated, who are the least likely to say they believe in witchcraft, those who believe rate their lives worse than those who don't.


Bottom Line

Gallup surveys and others, such as the one the Pew Center conducted,* document that many in sub-Saharan Africa believe in witchcraft and "other elements of African traditions." This widespread belief presents numerous challenges for nongovernmental organizations and civil society working in sub-Saharan Africa. Their strategies to educate the public about HIV/AIDS, for example, must consider that many believe witchcraft causes the disease.

A UNICEF report recently focused on another newer challenge, the increasing number of children who are being accused of witchcraft and are abused or killed. The organization recommends "research to get a good understanding of the phenomenon and its causes." Gallup's findings also indicate there is more to learn about the cumulative effects of such beliefs on well-being.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

For additional demographic breaks, see page 2.

Survey Methods

Results are based on 18,000 face-to-face interviews with adults, aged 15 in older, conducted in 2009. A minimum of 1,000 interviews were conducted in each of the following countries: Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo Kinshasa, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error ranged from a low of ±3.5 percentage points in Ivory Coast and Niger to a high of ±4.8 percentage points in Senegal. For results based on demographic subgroups, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error is between ±1 and ±2 percentage points.

The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

*Between December 2008 and April 2009 the Pew Center surveyed 19 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and found the median score for belief in witchcraft was 37%. These surveys differed in several respects from the Gallup World Poll, including the target population (Pew, ages 18 and older, and Gallup, ages 15 and older), question wording, and context and dates of the survey, although the two sets of surveys had 13 countries in common.



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