There has been a sharp rise in the number of New Zealanders with no religious affiliation, new research shows.

In a study of 1000 people by Massey University, 40 per cent said they had no religious affiliation compared to 29 per cent 17 years ago.

Just over a third of New Zealanders described themselves as religious.

Fifty-three per cent said they believed in God (although half of those said they had doubts), 20 per cent believed in some form of higher power and about third said they didn't believe or didn't know.

However, 60 per cent said they would prefer children to have religious education in state primary schools, with strongest support for teaching about all faiths.

Professor Philip Gendall, who led the Department of Communication, Journalism and Marketing research team, said the view that New Zealand was a very secular country was supported by the relatively low levels of active involvement in religion.

"The survey shows that God is not dead, but religion may be dying," he said.

- NZPA