Religion and social-morality issues in 2012

 

This BRIN post looks in some detail at data on religion groups’ views on social-morality issues, based on the British Social Attitudes (BSA) 2012 survey. The BSA report from the latest survey was released in September 2013, which was covered at the time by BRIN, and the dataset has now been made available for wider usage via the UK Data Service. An overview of the BSA series can be found here.

Previous BRIN posts have already looked at trends in religious groups’ attitudes towards homosexuality and euthanasia in recent decades. This post provides a ‘snapshot’ of religious groups’ views on the following four topics, discussing each one in turn.

 

  • Abortion
  • Euthanasia
  • Homosexuality
  • Gender roles

 

For each topic, attitudes are compared on the basis of religious affiliation and frequency of attendance at religious services. They are classified as follows:

 

  • Anglican, Catholic, other Christian, non-Christian, no religion
  • Frequently-attends (once a month or more), infrequently-attends (less than once a month), never attends

 

Throughout, the results presented are based on weighted data.

 

Abortion

The BSA surveys have carried a set of questions since 1983 asking whether abortion should be allowed under different circumstances. This set is similar to that which has been asked on the U.S. General Social Survey, which has been running since the early-1970s.

 

The full question wording used in the BSA surveys is as follows:

 

Here are a number of circumstances in which a woman might consider an abortion. Please say whether or not you think the law should allow an abortion in each case.

 

The woman decides on her own she does not wish to have the child.

The couple agree they do not wish to have the child.

The couple cannot afford any more children.

There is a strong chance of a defect in the baby.

The woman’s health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy.

The woman is not married and does not wish to marry the man.

The woman became pregnant as a result of rape.

 

Table 1 (affiliation) and Table 2 (attendance) present the results for these seven questions, showing the proportions responding ‘no’ (i.e. against an abortion being allowed).

 

Looking at Table 1, opposition is much lower for three sets of circumstances (strong chance of a defect in the baby, the woman’s health being seriously endangered, and a woman becoming pregnant as a result of rape). Opposition to abortion is generally higher for the other four sets of circumstances.

Looking at variation in attitudes based on affiliation, the lowest levels of opposition are in each case registered by those with no religion. Catholics offer the highest levels of opposition for some, but not all, sets of circumstances. In some areas, their opposition is exceeded by those belonging to non-Christian faiths.

Generally, Anglicans and other Christians express lower levels of opposition than Catholics but higher levels than those with no religion. On three measures Catholic opposition reaches a majority (a woman deciding on her own, where the woman is not married, and where the couple cannot afford any more children).

On no occasion does Anglican opposition to abortion reach a majority and on only one occasion do a majority of other Christians oppose abortion (where a woman decides by herself to have an abortion).

 

 

Table 1 Opposition to abortion by religious affiliation, per cent saying ‘no’

  Anglican (%) Catholic (%) Other Christian (%) Non-Christian (%) No religion (%)
Woman decides

on her own

41.2 56.8 48.6 52.2 24.5
Woman is not

married

42.6 66.1 51.5 36.6 33.0
When the

couple agree

29.1 40.0 33.5 32.7 15.3
Couple cannot

afford any

more children

37.4 55.0 40.5 40.8 24.7
Strong chance

of a defect

in the baby

14.8 26.7 18.9 30.5 10.6
Woman’s health

is seriously

endangered

4.2 10.8 7.7 9.0 2.9
Woman becomes

pregnant due

to rape

3.7 14.4 10.1 19.1 4.3

Source: BSA 2012 survey. Weighted data.

 

Table 2 presents attitudes based on attendance at services. There is a consistent pattern across the seven different scenarios. That is, frequent-attenders are always more likely to express opposition to abortion, which reaches a majority in three cases. In one case (the woman deciding on her own) infrequent-attenders are about equidistant in their opposition, placed in-between frequent-attenders and non-attenders. For the other measures, they are much closer to the level of opposition expressed by non-attenders. The highest level of opposition registered by non-attenders is in the case of a woman not being married, at around a third, and reaches a quarter for two other scenarios. In the cases of a woman’s health being seriously endangered and the pregnancy being a result of rape, less than 5 per cent of infrequent-attenders and non-attenders express opposition.

 

Table 2 Opposition to abortion by religious attendance, per cent saying ‘no’

 

Frequently-attends (%)

Infrequently attends (%)

Never attends (%)

Woman decides on her own

58.6

42.7

26.3

Woman is not married

58.6

38.2

34.3

When the couple agree

44.1

25.9

17.6

Couple cannot afford any more children

54.2

30.6

26.4

Strong chance of a defect in the baby

27.6

14.1

11.6

Woman’s health is seriously endangered

13.2

2.4

3.3

Woman becomes pregnant due to rape

20.0

2.9

4.3

Source: BSA 2012 survey. Weighted data.

 

Assisted dying

A single question on the issue of assisted dying or euthanasia was asked in the BSA 2012. The question wording was:

 

About a person with a painful incurable disease. Do you think that doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient’s life, if the patient requests it?

 

Respondents could respond ‘yes’, ‘no’, or did not answer (this question did not offer an explicit ‘don’t know’ or ‘can’t choose’ option). Table 3 presents the full distribution of responses for religious affiliation and Table 4 does the same for religious attendance. There is overwhelming support for a doctor being allowed to end a patient’s life amongst Anglicans, other Christians and those with no religion (highest at 88.1 per cent). Support is somewhat lower among Catholics, at around two-thirds, and lower still amongst members of non-Christian faiths, at around half.

 

Table 3 Attitudes towards assisted dying by religious affiliation

Anglican (%)

Catholic (%)

Other Christian (%)

Non-Christian (%)

No religion (%)

Yes

81.6

68.6

75.0

51.4

88.1

No

13.1

28.1

22.6

48.6

8.8

Not answered

5.3

3.4

2.4

0.0

3.0

Source: BSA 2012. Weighted data.

 

Looking at Table 4, over four-fifths of both infrequent-attenders and non-attenders support assisted dying with the involvement of a doctor. Those who frequently attend services stand apart from these two groups, as just over half responded ‘yes’.

 

Table 4 Attitudes towards assisted dying by religious attendance

Frequently-attends (%)

Infrequently attends (%)

Never attends (%)

Yes

53.1

81.2

88.1

No

44.4

16.9

8.2

Not answered

2.5

1.9

3.8

Source: BSA 2012. Weighted data.

 

 

Homosexuality

A series of questions on same-sex relations were asked, including those gauging views on same-sex marriage, adoption and homosexual people holding particular roles and occupations. Also asked was a long-running question on sexual relations between two adults of the same sex. The wordings for the questions on sexual relations, same-sex marriage, bringing up children and adoption were as follows:

 

About sexual relations between two adults of the same sex. Do you think it is always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all?’

How much do you agree or disagree that  … gay or lesbian couples should have the right to marry one another if they want to?

Children grow up in different kinds of families. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements … A same sex male couple can bring up a child as well as a male-female couple.

Children grow up in different kinds of families. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements … A same sex female couple can bring up a child as well as a male-female couple.

Do you think homosexual couples should be allowed to adopt a baby under the same conditions as other couples?

 

Data for these questions are shown in Table 5 (affiliation) and Table 6 (attendance). Both tables report the proportions holding negative views on these questions – those who think sexual relations between homosexuals are always or mostly wrong, who disagree with same-sex marriage, and so on. Generally, those with no religion are distinctively more liberal in their views compared to the four religious groups. Just 16 per cent think that sexual relations between homosexuals are always or mostly wrong and just 14 per cent disagree with same-sex marriage. Levels of opposition are higher, though, in relation to adoption and the two questions on bringing up children. In relation to the questions on sexual relations and same-sex marriage, the highest levels of opposition are expressed by members of non-Christian religions. Anglicans report the highest levels of opposition to the question on adoption, and they, along with non-Christians, are most likely to disagree with same-sex male couples being able to raise children as well as heterosexual couples would. Broadly similar levels of disagreement – slightly above two-fifths – are expressed by the four religious groups in relation to the question on same-sex female couples bringing up children.

 

Table 5 Attitudes toward same-sex relations by religious affiliation

Anglican

(%)

Catholic

(%)

Other Christian (%) Non-Christian (%) No religion (%)
Sexual relations

between two adults of the same sex:

Always / mostly wrong

40.1 35.1 35.4 61.2 15.5
Same-sex marriage:

Disagree / strongly disagree

32.5 25.5 31.8 44.0 14.0
Same-sex female couple bringing up children: Disagree / strongly disagree 44.7 44.9 42.0 45.2 25.3
Same-sex male couple bringing up children: Disagree / strongly disagree 51.2 48.7 45.0 52.4 28.4
Allowed to adopt under same conditions as other couples: No 59.5 49.4 55.6 44.9 33.2

Source: BSA 2012. Weighted data.

 

Table 6 shows results for attendance at religious services. Across-the-board, frequent attenders are much more likely to express negative views on issues concerning homosexuality and gay rights. They are more likely to think that sexual relations between homosexual couples are wrong, to disagree with same-sex marriage, less likely to favour same-sex couples being allowed to adopt under similar conditions as heterosexual couples, and less likely to believe that same-sex couples – male or female – can bring up children as well as heterosexual couples.

Across groups, the highest levels of opposition are expressed on the adoption issue, followed by the two questions on bringing up children. In relation to the questions on raising children, opposition is slightly higher towards same-sex male couples. In each case, those who never attend religious services express the lowest levels of negative sentiment, with a fifth thinking sexual relations between homosexual couples are always or mostly wrong and even fewer being against same-sex marriage.

 

Table 6 Attitudes toward same-sex relations by religious attendance

Frequently-attends (%) Infrequently attends (%) Never attends (%)
Same-sex relations:

Always / mostly wrong

52.2 35.0 20.0
Same-sex marriage:

Disagree / strongly disagree

46.8 25.4 16.0
Same-sex female couple bringing up children: Disagree / strongly disagree 54.9 32.4 30.6
Same-sex male couple bringing up children: Disagree / strongly disagree 59.7 41.7 33.3
Allowed to adopt under same conditions as other couples: No 60.3 50.0 39.0

Source: BSA 2012. Weighted data.

 

The BSA 2012 survey also asked three questions on homosexual people being able to hold certain role or occupations. These questions began with:

 

Is it acceptable for a homosexual person …

 

Respondents then answered in relation to holding a responsible position in public life, teaching in schools and teaching in colleges and universities. Table 7 shows the results for affiliation and Table 8 for attendance, reporting the proportions who responded ‘no’. Looking at the results for affiliation, we can see that while levels of opposition are generally low across the groups, negative sentiment is always higher for homosexuals being allowed to teach in schools or in colleges and universities. Those with no religion express the lowest levels of opposition in each case, with only 3 per cent thinking a homosexual should not be allowed to hold a responsible position in public life. Those from non-Christian faiths stand out here as they tend to express higher levels of opposition than all the other groups. Nearly a half oppose homosexual people being allowed to teach in schools and more than a third are against them holding positions in public life or teaching in other settings. Across Christians, the highest level of opposition is registered by Anglicans, with a fifth against homosexuals being allowed to teach in schools.

Table 7 Attitudes towards a homosexual person holding certain roles and occupations by religious affiliation, per cent saying ‘no’

Anglican

(%)

Catholic

(%)

Other Christian (%)

Non-Christian (%)

No religion (%)

To hold a responsible position in public life

7.2

5.5

11.2

36.8

2.7

To be a teacher in a college or university

15.3

11.8

13.3

38.1

5.4

To be a teacher in a school

19.2

14.4

15.7

47.2

7.5

Source: BSA 2012 survey. Weighted data.

 

Table 8 shows a consistent pattern for attendance at services. Those who are frequent-attenders always express higher levels of opposition but, even so, this amounts to less than a quarter in the case of being allowed to teach in school, where the proportions against are highest across all of the three groups. Infrequent-attenders are broadly equidistant between the other two groups in their opposition to homosexuals being allowed teaching roles, but are closer to the views of non-attenders concerning homosexuals holding positions in public life.

 

Table 8 Attitudes towards a homosexual person holding certain roles and occupations by religious attendance, per cent saying ‘no’

Frequently-attends (%)

Infrequently attends (%)

Never attends (%)

To hold a responsible position in public life

18.3

6.5

4.8

To be a teacher in a college or university

19.4

13.6

8.9

To be a teacher in a school

23.8

17.5

11.0

Source: BSA 2012 survey. Weighted data.

 

Gender roles

The final issue looked at is that of gender roles, based on responses to a question which the BSA series first used back in 1984. It asks:

 

Do you agree or disagree that … a husband’s job is to earn money; a wife’s job is to look after the home and family?

 

Table 9 (affiliation) and Table 10 (attendance) show the full set of responses to this question. Looking first at affiliation, with the exception of adherents of non-Christian faiths, varying majorities disagree with the above statement, highest at nearly three-quarters of those with no religion. Around two-fifths of those belonging to a non-Christian religion disagree to some extent with the statement. This group shows the highest proportions agreeing with the statement (about 29 per cent) and expressing a neutral position (neither agreeing nor disagreeing). Agreement is lowest amongst those with no religion, and is at similar levels for Anglicans, Catholics and other Christians.

Table 9 Attitudes towards gender roles by religious affiliation

Anglican (%)

Catholic (%)

Other Christian (%)

Non-Christian (%)

No religion (%)

Strongly agree or agree

16.8

17.3

15.2

28.6

7.8

Neither

22.8

18.7

21.2

31.0

19.5

Disagree or strongly disagree

58.9

64.0

63.6

40.5

72.3

Can’t choose

1.5

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.4

Source: BSA 2012. Weighted data.

 

Looking at views based on frequency of attendance, around a fifth of each group opts for a neutral position on the question. Those who frequently-attend are around twice as likely as non-attenders to express a traditionalist stance; that is, more likely to agree with the statement. Across groups, however, the majority view is that the statement is wrong, with opposition highest at nearly 70 per cent for those with no religion, followed by those who attend infrequently.

 

Table 10 Attitudes towards gender roles by religious attendance

Frequently-attends (%)

Infrequently attends (%)

Never attends (%)

Strongly agree or agree

20.8

12.9

10.9

Neither

22.9

23.3

19.8

Disagree or strongly disagree

55.6

63.8

68.8

Can’t choose

0.7

0.0

0.5

Source: BSA 2012. Weighted data.

 

Summary

The above review of religious groups’ attitudes on several social-morality topics, based on data from the BSA 2012 survey, shows that those with no religion – the religious ‘nones’ – are generally more liberal in their views. That is, they tend to express less socially-conservative attitudes on all four topics: abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality and gender roles. On the ‘life issues’ examined here – abortion and assisted dying – the opposition expressed by Catholics was in some cases rivalled or exceeded by that of non-Christians. On other questions, non-Christians also registered more socially-conservative views. On the basis of attendance, those who did not attend services (a group which includes those with and without a religious affiliation) were usually more liberal in their views, sometimes closely-followed by those who attend services infrequently.

 

Further analysis of this broad area of topics, based on data from the 2012 study and earlier surveys can be found in the following source:

Park, A. and Rhead, R. (2013), ‘Personal Relationships: Changing attitudes towards sex, marriage and parenthood’, in A. Park, C. Bryson, E. Clery, J. Curtice and M. Phillips (eds), British Social Attitudes: The 30th Report. (London: NatCen Social Research). Available at: www.bsa-30.natcen.ac.uk.

Further analysis of religious groups’ views on gender roles and the ordination of women is available in the following article:

Clements, B. (2014), ‘Changing attitudes towards gender equality and the ordination of women’, Modern Believing, 55(1): 16-21.

 


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