Dynamics of Social Group Competition: Modeling the Decline of Religious Affiliation

Department of Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA.
Physical Review Letters (Impact Factor: 7.73). 08/2011; 107(8):088701. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.107.088701
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT When social groups compete for members, the resulting dynamics may be understandable with mathematical models. We demonstrate that a simple ordinary differential equation (ODE) model is a good fit for religious shift by comparing it to a new international data set tracking religious nonaffiliation. We then generalize the model to include the possibility of nontrivial social interaction networks and examine the limiting case of a continuous system. Analytical and numerical predictions of this generalized system, which is robust to polarizing perturbations, match those of the original ODE model and justify its agreement with real-world data. The resulting predictions highlight possible causes of social shift and suggest future lines of research in both physics and sociology.

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