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British Social Attitudes: Record number of Brits with no religion

04 September 2017 | Tags: British Social Attitudes, religion and belief

The latest data on religious affiliation from NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey reveals that the proportion of people in Britain who describe themselves as having no religion is at its highest ever level.

More than half (53%) of the British public now describe themselves as having “no religion”, up from 48% in 2015. The proportion of non-believers has increased gradually since the survey began in 1983, when the proportion saying they had no religion stood at 31%.

Church of England decline continues

The decline in religious affiliation is hitting the Church of England particularly hard. Just 15% of people in Britain consider themselves Anglican, half the proportion who said this in 2000.

The proportion of people describing themselves as Catholic has remained relatively stable – at around 1 in 10 – over the past 30 years. Around 1 in 20 (6%) of people belong to non-Christian religions. 

Young people lose their religion

The fall in religious affiliation has been driven, at least in part, by young people. In 2016, seven in ten (71%) of young people aged 18-24 said they had no religion, up from 62% in 2015.

There has been a decline in religious affiliation among all age groups between 2015 and 2016, but among the oldest people, those with no religion are in the minority. 4 in 10 people aged 65-74 say they have no religion and this drops to 27% of those aged 75 and over

And when it comes to the Church of England, young people are particularly underrepresented. Just 3% of those aged 18-24 described themselves as Anglican, compared to 40% of those aged 75 and over.

Roger Harding, Head of Public Attitudes at the National Centre for Social Research, said:

“This increase follows the long-term trend of more and more of us not being religious. The differences by age are stark and with so many younger people not having a religion it’s hard to see this change abating any time soon. The falls in those belonging to the Church of England are the most notable, but these figures should cause all religious leaders to pause for thought."  

“We know from the British Social Attitudes survey that religious people are becoming more socially liberal on issues like same sex relationships and abortion. With falling numbers some faith leaders might wonder whether they should be doing more to take their congregation’s lead on adapting to how society is changing.”

ENDS

Download the data tables here.

For more information or to arrange an interview with Roger Harding please contact Sophie Brown on Sophie.brown@natcen.ac.uk or 0207 549 9550.

Notes to editors

The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.

The 2016 British Social Attitudes survey consisted of 2,942 interviews with a representative, random sample of adults in Britain. Interviewing was carried out between 13 July and 30 October 2016. Addresses are randomly selected and visited by one of NatCen’s interviewers. After selecting one adult at the address (again at random), the interviewer carries out an hour long interview.

The question asked to determine religious affiliation is: ‘Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion? IF YES: Which?’ The respondent is not provided with a list of religions.