The British Election Study 2015: Religious affiliation

This post analyses the contemporary social make-up of religious belonging in Britain using data released as part of the latest British Election Study (BES), focusing on the 2015 general election. Two waves of panel data (conducted in, respectively, February-March 2014 and April-June 2014) have so far been made available for wider analysis. They can be found here. This post uses wave 1 from the BES 2015 panel study to look at the social bases of religious affiliation in Britain, looking at how religious is distributed across various socio-demographic factors (sex, age, country and region). The analysis is based on the core sample (n=20,881) from wave 1 of the BES 2015 Panel Study, and the data are weighted accordingly. Although the data released so far have not contained measures of other aspects of religion, such as attendance, given the BES’s longevity (it started in the early-1960s) and the extensive range of questions on political and social issues, the current data – and future releases as part of the 2015 study – clearly represent an important resource for scholars of religion in Britain.

It is useful to look at the overall distribution for religious affiliation, which is given in Table 1. The question wording was as follows: ‘Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?’ The most common response is that of not belonging to any religion, at 44.7%. Next, those who identify as Church of England or Anglican constitute 31.1%, followed by 9.1% who identify as Catholic. Very small proportions say they belong to other Christian traditions or denominations, such as one of the Nonconformist churches or as Church of Scotland/Presbyterian. Similarly, very small proportions report that they identify with a non-Christian faith, including Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Buddhism, or some other religion.

 

Table 1: Religious affiliation

 

%

Church of England/Anglican/Episcopal

31.1

Roman Catholic

9.1

Presbyterian/Church of Scotland

3.1

Methodist

2.5

Baptist

1.3

United Reformed Church

0.5

Free Presbyterian

0.1

Brethren

0.1

Judaism

0.8

Hinduism

0.6

Islam

1.6

Sikhism

0.3

Buddhism

0.4

Other

3.7

None

44.7

Source: BES 2015 Panel Study – Wave 1.

 

Table 2 provides a summary of the data reported already but based on five categories – combining (i) those in the various Christian groups (apart from Anglicans and Catholics) and (ii) those belonging to non-Christian faiths or who responded ‘other’. It also shows the earlier data on religious affiliation from other BES surveys, covering the period from 1963 to 2015. For this period, covering over fifty years, the major features are: the decline in levels of Anglican affiliation, the steady proportions who identify as Roman Catholic, the decline in the proportions belonging to other Christian traditions, the increase in those affiliated to minority non-Christian faiths and the growth in what are often termed the ‘religious nones’. Of course, religious belonging can be affected by the question wording asked and response options available on any particular survey, and the BES questions on affiliation have not been consistently-worded over time.

 

Table 2: Religious affiliation, 1963-2015

1963 (%)

(Feb.) 1974 (%)

1987 (%)

2001 (%)

2015 (%)

Anglican

64.5

41.5

41.4

32.5

31.1

Roman Catholic

8.6

9.0

9.8

10.8

9.1

Other Christian

23.1

12.9

14.7

6.9

7.6

Other religion

0.6

2.7

2.4

7.7

7.5

None

3.2

33.8

31.8

42.1

44.7

Source: BES cross-section surveys; BES 2015 Panel Study – Wave 1.

 

It is a common finding from sociological work on religion that women are more likely to have a religious identity and to be more involved or engaged with their faith. This is apparent, in relation to belonging, for the data presented in Table 3, which shows the religious composition of men and women. While similar proportions of men and women fall within the other Christian and other religion categories (and women are slightly more likely to be Catholic), a clear difference is in the proportions who report they are Anglican – 27.7% for men and 34.3% for women. Accordingly, men are more likely to declare that they do not belong to a religion, a nearly half (48.6%) compared to just over two-fifths of women (40.0%)

 

Table 3: Religious affiliation by sex

Male (%)

Female (%)

Anglican

27.7

34.3

Roman Catholic

8.5

9.7

Other Christian

7.6

7.5

Other religion

7.5

7.5

None

48.6

41.0

Source: BES 2015 Panel Study – Wave 1.

 

Next, how does religious belonging vary by age? Table 4 presents the religious composition of seven different age groups (ranging from those aged 18-24 to those aged 75 and older). Several aspects of the data are worthy of note. First, identification as an Anglican increases steadily across age groups, lowest at just 14.2% for those aged 18-24 years and highest at half of those aged 75+ (at 52.1%). There is also a greater tendency to identify with other Christian traditions amongst the older age groups – highest at 11.6% and 10.4%, respectively, for the 65-74 and 75+ groups. Belonging to a non-Christian faith is more likely amongst younger age groups – particularly those between 18-34 years of age. The pattern in the data for having no religious affiliation is the reverse of that seen for Anglicans: that is, there is a steady decrease in the proportion with no religion as we move up the age range. Well over half of those aged 44 and under report having no affiliation, which falls to lower than three-tenths amongst those aged 65 and older.

 

Table 4: Religious affiliation by age group

18-24 (%)

25-34 (%)

35-44 (%)

45-54 (%)

55-64 (%)

65-74 (%)

75+

(%)

Anglican

14.2

19.4

23.6

32.8

39.4

46.4

52.1

Roman Catholic

8.5

8.7

9.4

9.6

9.8

8.6

7.4

Other Christian

4.0

5.6

5.3

6.7

9.4

11.6

10.4

Other religion

11.0

10.9

8.8

6.3

5.1

5.1

5.2

None

61.4

55.3

52.9

44.7

28.3

28.3

4.9

Source: BES 2015 Panel Study – Wave 1.

 

Another way at looking at the association between religious affiliation and age is to look at the mean (average) age within each religious group, data on which are presented in Table 5. It is clear that the average age of religious affiliates is highest for Anglicans (53.7 years) and other Christians (52.4 years). It is lowest for those with no religion (43.3 years) and those who belong to non-Christian faiths (42.2 years). The average age of Catholics is 47.6 years, in between the other groups.

 

Table 5: Mean age by religious group

Mean age

Anglican

53.7

Roman Catholic

47.6

Other Christian

52.4

Other religion

42.2

None

43.3

Source: BES 2015 Panel Study – Wave 1.

 

The differing religious complexion of the different nations of Britain is still apparent in the data shown in Table 6. Anglicans are much more prevalent in England and Wales than in Scotland, where the other Christian category is much more common (many of whom would identify as Church of Scotland/Presbyterian). Identifying as Roman Catholic is more prevalent in Scotland and England than in Wales. Those in England and Wales are also somewhat more likely to belong to a non-Christian religion. Levels of non-affiliation are clearly higher in Wales and Scotland.

 

Table 6: Religious affiliation by country

England

(%)

Wales

(%)

Scotland

(%)

Anglican

34.0

27.7

4.5

Roman Catholic

9.1

5.9

11.5

Other Christian

5.4

8.1

28.6

Other religion

7.8

6.5

4.7

None

43.7

51.8

50.6

Source: BES 2015 Panel Study – Wave 1.

 

Finally, Table 7 provides a breakdown of religious affiliation in the different (Government Office) regions of England. Again, historical patterns of migration and settlement by religious communities are apparent. Higher proportions of Catholics are found in the North West, North East and in London. London is also distinct from other regions in having the lowest proportion of Anglicans (24.7%), the highest proportion belonging to other religions (21.4%, followed by the West Midlands at 8.1%) and the lowest proportion with no affiliation (35.3%).

 

Table 7: Religious affiliation by English region

Anglican

Catholic

Other Christian

Other religion

No religion

North East (%)

35.1

11.9

6.1

2.9

44.0

North West (%)

33.6

14.7

5.4

5.4

41.0

Yorkshire and the Humber (%)

37.5

6.5

6.4

5.8

43.8

East Midlands (%)

35.2

5.7

5.4

5.6

48.1

West Midlands (%)

35.2

6.7

5.4

8.1

44.6

East of England (%)

34.4

7.9

5.1

6.0

46.5

London (%)

24.7

13.8

4.8

21.4

35.3

South East (%)

35.3

7.1

5.4

5.0

47.2

South West (%)

39.7

5.4

5.3

4.1

45.5

Source: BES 2015 Panel Study – Wave 1.

Note: Percentages sum across the rows.

 

 

Summary

These new data on religious affiliation from the BES 2015 shed some light on the social basis of religious affiliation in contemporary British society. There are clear differences in levels of religious affiliation (and non-affiliation) based on sex, age, and region. Demographically, women and those in older age groups are more likely to be Anglican, while men and younger people are more likely to report having no religion. Younger people are also more likely to identify with a non-Christian religion. Religious belonging also varies by nation and region, reflecting historical patterns of migration, settlement and denominational fault-lines. Non-religion is somewhat higher in Scotland and Wales while, within England, London is particularly distinctive in terms of its religious complexion.

 

NB: A second note, to accompany this one, will look at the social and political attitudes of religious groups using the same data from the BES 2015.

 

Reference

Fieldhouse, E., J. Green., G. Evans., H. Schmitt, and C. van der Eijk (2014) British Election Study Internet Panel Wave 1.


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