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Religion in Britain in 2016

Posted on 04 September 2017 by Roger Harding, Head of Public Attitudes .
Tags: British Social Attitudes, religion

Today we’ve released this year’s key religious affiliation numbers from NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey. Once again we’re a country becoming less and less religious, but with some interesting patterns under the topline figures.

First, the headline figures when people are asked if they belong to a religion:

BSA Religion Stats Chart 1

‘Other Christian’ will include other Christian denominations and Christians who didn’t volunteer one. ‘Non-Christian’ includes people belonging to other faiths, with the largest being Islam, followed by Hinduism and Sikhism. Accurately breaking the figures out beyond what’s in the table is difficult due to the small sample sizes.

Looking at the trend data we see that those belonging to no religion has been growing consistently for over 30 years and in 2016 reached a record 53%. The corollary of that is of course a long-term decline in those belonging to a religion, with the fall in the number of Anglicans the most notable.

BSA Religion Stats Chart 2

The proportion of Anglicans is now 15%, significantly down from the 40% first recorded by the BSA in 1983. We found a similar pattern specifically in Scotland[1], where the proportion of Scots who say they belong to the Church of Scotland is now 18%, down from 35% in 1999.

In Britain as a whole we interestingly don’t see similar declines in the numbers of Catholics or ‘Other Christians’, with both percentages almost unchanged in 33 years. This needs unpicking further, but some have suggested this might be due to migration patterns, with Catholic migrants from Poland and Pentecostal Christians from Africa generally helping to keep the numbers steady.

Looking back at the data on the decline in the proportion of Anglicans it’s clear that age is a major driver:

BSA Religion Stats Chart 5

While 40% of the over-75s say they belong to the Church of England, that collapses to just 3% for those aged 18-24 years. By contrast, non-Christian religious people tend to follow the opposite pattern, with higher proportions amongst younger groups.

What the rise and rise in the non-religious suggests, especially when we look by age, is that being raised in a religious household isn’t a guarantee of a child becoming a religious adult – as we see here:

BSA Religion Stats Chart 6

While 94% of people raised in a non-religious household go on to have no religion in adulthood, 39% of those raised in a religious household don’t hold a religion in adulthood.

Finally it’s interesting to see that – at least as far as Anglicanism and Catholicism are concerned (again the numbers are too small to accurately breakout other religions) – religion is becoming less pronounced in its ability to predict attitudes on social issues.

This year’s BSA report found that on same-sex relationships, sex before marriage and abortion there had been a notable closing of the gap between the views of Anglicans and Catholics and the rest of the population.  

For example, 55% of Anglicans say same-sex relationships are “not wrong at all” (a huge increase of 24 percentage points since 2012) which is just 9 percentage points shy of the population-wide figure (64%). Similarly, 61% of Catholics in Britain say a woman should be allowed to have an abortion if she does not wish to have the child, compared with 70% for the whole population.


[1] While BSA covers Scotland, the SSA (Scottish Social Attitudes survey) has a larger Scottish sample which allows us to understand trends for the Church of Scotland.

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