Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Half of Britons now non-religious, finds respected British Social Attitudes survey

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The British Social Attitudes report, a highly-regarded annual survey of the British public's views on a wide range of social and political subjects, has found that 50 per cent of people now regard themselves as not belonging to a particular religion.

As those who have followed the debate over the census religion question (which in 2001 found almost 72 per cent of people to be Christian) will know, attempts to measure religiosity produce vastly different results according to how the question is phrased. As is explained in the full report, the BSA's religion statistics are obtained using three questions, the first being "Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion? IF YES: which?". In the latest survey, published today, the results are as follows:
No religion: 50%
Church of England/Anglican: 20%
Other Christian: 15%
Roman Catholic: 9 %
Non-Christian: 6%
Analysis of past BSA surveys, which date back to 1983, reveal a significant shift over the past three decades. In 1983, 31 per cent said they had no religion, compared with 40 per cent in 2005 and 50 per cent in 2010. While the numbers of non-religious have risen, the figures for the Church of England have fallen dramatically, with 40 per cent identifying as C of E in 1983, compared with 26 per cent in 2005 and 20 per cent in 2010.

The BSA's second religion question focuses on whether people were brought up in religions (you can view those results by taking a look at the report), while the third question focuses on religious attendance: "Apart from such special occasions as weddings, funerals and baptisms, how often nowadays do you attend services or meetings connected with your religion?"

The overall results for this question, which was asked of all those who said they are affiliated to a religion or grew up in a religion, show that 56 per cent never attend religious services. Again, there is particularly bad news for the Church of England: 48 per cent of adherents say they never attend church, with just 8 per cent saying they attend weekly and 10 per cent monthly. 25 per cent say they attend on an annual basis. Catholics, meanwhile, show higher levels of brand loyalty: 29 per cent never attend, but 28 per cent attend weekly and 17 per cent attend monthly. 20 per cent say they make it to church once a year.

The survey also breaks the results down according to age, and here it becomes starkly clear how rapidly religiosity is falling in the UK. While only 28 per cent of those aged 65 and over identify as non-religious, for other age groups the figures are as follows:
18-24 years: 64%
25-34 years: 57%
35-44 years: 60%
45-54 years: 51%
55-64 years: 47%
So what does all this mean? The author of the religion section of the BSA survey, Lucy Lee, offers an interesting conclusion, which I think is worth reproducing here:
"Britain is becoming less religious, with the numbers who affiliate with a religion or attend religious services experiencing a long-term decline. And this trend seems set to continue; not only as older, more religious generations are replaced by younger, less religious ones, but also as the younger generations increasingly opt not to bring up their children in a religion – a factor shown to strongly link with religious affiliation and attendance later in life.

What does this decline mean for society and social policy more generally? On the one hand, we can expect to see a continued increase in liberal attitudes towards a range of issues such as abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and euthanasia, as the influence of considerations grounded in religion declines. Moreover, we may see an increased reluctance, particularly among the younger age groups, for matters of faith to enter the social and public spheres at all. The recently expressed sentiment of the current coalition government to “do” and “get” God (Warsi, 2011) therefore may not sit well with, and could alienate, certain sections of the population."
Away from the religion issue, there's lots of other interesting information in the BSA survey, covering a range of issues from education to the environment. You can see the full report on the website of the "National Centre for Social Research", which conducts the survey.
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