The European Social Survey: Religion in Britain

This BRIN post looks at religious data pertaining to Britain from  the European Social Survey (ESS), a cross-national survey which has so far involved seven waves conducted every two years since 2002. In each wave, the UK adult population has been sampled. The most recent survey wave was conducted in 2014 – the UK country dataset has recently been released and can be downloaded (along with accompanying documentation) from the ESS website: http://www.europeansocialsurvey.org/data/.

The religious data presented here are based on analysis of the 2002 and 2014 surveys, in order to provide an over-time comparison. While each of the samples covers the UK, the small proportion of cases resident in Norther Ireland have been omitted, so that the focus it on those in living in Britain.

Four religious indicators are used here: affiliation; attendance, prayer, and personal religiosity. The analysis first examines each religious indicator in turn before looking at how different measures of religious engagement (attendance, prayer and religiosity) are associated with belonging to a particular faith or denomination. For attendance and prayer, the full set of response options provided in the ESS surveys have been collapsed into more parsimonious sets of categories. Question wordings are given underneath each table. All tables present the results from analysis of weighted data.

 

Religious indicators

Table 1 presents the data on religion affiliation from the 2002 and 2014 surveys. Over time, the total proportion professing some form of Christian affiliation has been broadly stable (2002: 43%; 2014: 42%). However, as an identical set of response categories was not used for Christian traditions in both surveys, this limits the observations that can be made. The proportion claiming no religious affiliation is almost identical over time (2002: 52%; 2014: 53%). The proportion recorded in 2014 is a little higher than that recorded in the 2014 British Social Attitudes survey. There has been an increase in the proportion belonging to some other religion (from 5% to 7%).

 

Table 1: Religious affiliation

2002 (%)   2014 (%)
TOTAL CHRISTIAN 43 TOTAL CHRISTIAN 42
   Protestant 33     Anglican 24
   Catholic 8     Catholic 10
   Other Christian 2     Other Christian 8
OTHER RELIGION 5 OTHER RELIGION 7
NO RELIGION 52 NO RELIGION 53

Source: Author’s analysis of ESS 2002 and 2014.

Questions: ‘Do you consider yourself as belonging to any particular religion or denomination?’ and ‘Which one?’

Note:  Some of the categories included under ‘CHRISTIAN’ are not equivalent between the 2002 and 2014 surveys.

 

Table 2 is based on responses to a question only asked of those who said they had no religious affiliation. It gauges whether they have ever belonged to a religious faith or denomination. In both surveys around three-in-ten indicate that they have (though it is slightly higher in 2014). In both years, then, a large majority of those with no current affiliation also stated that they have never had an affiliation in the past.

 

 

Table 2: Ever belonged to a particular religion or denomination (only asked of those with no affiliation)

2002 (%) 2014 (%)
Yes 28 32
No 72 69

Source: Author’s analysis of ESS 2002 and 2014.

Question: ‘Have you ever considered yourself as belonging to any particular religion or denomination?’

 

Table 3 presents data for the first of three measures of religious engagement – attendance at religious services (beyond going on special occasions). The picture is one of continuity over time – just under a fifth report that they attend services on a frequent basis (that is, once a month or more often); around three-in-ten attend less often; and about half said that they never attend services.

 

Table 3: Religious attendance

  2002 (%) 2014 (%)
Once a month or more 18 19
Less than once a month 32 30
Never 51 51

Source: Author’s analysis of ESS 2002 and 2014.

Question: ‘Apart from special occasions such as weddings and funerals, about how often do you attend religious services nowadays?’

 

Table 4 shows the responses to a question asking about prayer. It shows an increase over time in the proportion saying that they never pray, from 44% in 2002 to 50% in 2014, with small decreases in the proportions saying that either they pray at least once a week or less often.

 

Table 4: Prayer

  2002 (%) 2014 (%)
Once a week or more 31 29
Less often 25 22
Never 44 50

Source: Author’s analysis of ESS 2002 and 2014.

Question: ‘Apart from when you are at religious services, how often, if at all, do you pray?’

 

Moving beyond measures of religious practice, Table 5 shows responses to a question asking respondents to self-assess how religious they are. They are asked to locate themselves on a scale running from 0 to 10, where 0 indicates not at all religious and 10 indicates very religious. In Table 5, respondents have been categorised as to whether they have a low (scored 0-3), medium (scored 4-6) or high (scored 7-10) level of religiosity, as well as showing the overall mean score for the full scale. There has been some degree of change over time: the proportion with a low level of religiosity has increased from 40% to 48%. The proportion with a medium or high levels of religiosity have both fallen over time. In 2014, just under half have a low level of religiosity, 30% have a medium level (down from 36%) and 21% report having a high level (down from 24%). The average value underscores this movement towards lower levels of religiosity, decreasing from 5.0 to 3.8.

 

Table 5: Self-assessed religiosity

  2002 (%) 2014 (%)
Low (0 to 3) 40 48
Medium (4-6) 36 30
High (7-10) 24 21
Mean score 5.0 3.8

Source: Author’s analysis of ESS 2002 and 2014.

Question: ‘Regardless of whether you belong to a particular religion, how religious would you say you are?’

 

Religious engagement by affiliation

Table 6 takes the analysis of the religious data in the 2014 ESS survey a step further by looking at how the indicators of religious engagement are associated with the measure of religious affiliation. In other words, does religious engagement vary across different religious traditions? Table 6 provides a breakdown of attendance, prayer and self-assessed religiosity for Anglicans, Catholics, other Christians and those who belong to other religions. Data are not reported for those who do not have an affiliation.

A common finding across the three indicators of religious engagement is that Anglicans are less likely to be engaged. Anglicans are much less likely to say that they attend religious services on a regular basis (once a month or more); much less likely to report that they pray once a week or more; and are less likely to have a high level of personal religiosity.

Around a half of Catholics, other Christians and those affiliated to non-Christian religions say they attend services once a month or more. A clear majority in each group other than Anglicans also report praying once a week or more often. While 31% of Anglicans are categorised as having a high level of religiosity, this is considerable lower than the proportions for the other groups: Catholics: 47%; other Christians: 45%; other religion: 54%. Looked at another way, Anglicans’ mean score on the religiosity scale is 5.25; the average scores for the other groups are somewhat higher (highest at 6.53 for those belonging to other religions).

Finally, a summary measure of religious engagement was created based on the three indicators used already: attendance, prayer and self-assessed religiosity. Those respondents who met the following criteria of (i) attending services once a month or more, (ii) praying once a week or more and (iii) having a high level of religiosity were classed as having a high level of religious engagement. The proportion that is highly engaged – on this summary measure – within each affiliation category is shown in the bottom row of Table 6.

Within each religious group only a relatively small proportion can be identified as highly engaged on all three measures. The summary measure encapsulates what was found for each indicator when analysed in turn. That is, Anglicans somewhat stand apart from the other religious groups. Only 15% of Anglicans are classed as highly religiously engaged based on the summary measure, compared to around twice as many Catholics (33%), other Christians (31%) and those within non-Christian faiths (30%).

 

Table 6: Religious engagement by affiliation

Anglican (%) Catholic (%) Other Christian (%) Other religion (%)
Attendance
Once a month or more 25 47 48 49
Less than once a month 43 34 33 36
Never 33 20 19 15
Prayer
Once a week or more 38 61 55 68
Less often 32 22 23 21
Never 31 17 22 11
Religiosity
Low (0-3) 23 15 14 10
Medium (4-6) 46 38 41 36
High (7 to 10) 31 47 45 54
Mean score 5.3 6.0 6.2 6.5
         
Proportion with a high level of religious engagement* 15 33 31 30

*Based on a combined measure of: (i) attends once a month or more; (ii) prays more than once a week; and (iii) has a high level of self-assessed religiosity.

Source: Author’s analysis of ESS 2014.

 

Religious engagement by sociodemographic group

As a final step, Table 7 shows the incidence of different religious indicators across sociodemographic groups (based on sex, ethnicity and age). Specifically, within each group, Table 7 reports the proportion with a religious affiliation, the proportion attending services once a month or more, the proportion praying once a week or more, the proportion with a high level of religiosity, and the proportion categorised as highly religious engaged (based on the summary measure discussed already).

There are some consistent features in the data. Across all indicators, women are always more religious than men: that is, they are more likely to have some form of affiliation, more likely to practice their religion, and more likely to see themselves as being very religious.  Based on the combined measure of religious engagement, 13% of women are highly religiously engaged, as against a tenth of men.

Those who belong to a minority ethnic group are much more likely to be religiously engaged those who do not. With the exception of identifying with a religion, those who belong to a minority ethnic group are more than twice as likely to be religiously-engaged. Based on the summary measure (shown in the final column), 31% of those belonging to a minority ethnic group are classed as highly religiously engaged, compared to 9% of those who do not belong to a minority ethnic group.

In terms of the evidence across age groups, those aged 65 and over are most likely to be religiously-engaged, and this finding is consistent across indicators. Those in the youngest age group are consistently least likely to be religiously engaged. Based on the summary index, those aged 65 and older are twice as likely to be highly religiously engaged compared than those aged 15-29.

 

Table 7: Religious engagement by sociodemographic group

  Has a religious affiliation (%) Attends services: Once a month or more (%) Prays: Once a week or more (%) High level of religiosity (%) Religiosity: Mean score High level of religious engagement* (%)
Men 44 17 24 18 3.4 10
Women 50 21 33 24 4.1 13
Belongs to a minority ethnic group 67 38 56 45 5.4 31
Does not belong to a minority ethnic group 45 16 25 19 3.6 9
Aged 15-29 33 11 18 13 2.8 8
Aged 30-49 41 19 26 20 3.4 11
Aged 50-64 49 17 28 21 3.9 11
Aged 65+ 64 24 39 28 4.6 16

*Based on a combined measure of: (i) attends once a month or more; (ii) prays more than once a week; and (iii) has a high level of self-assessed religiosity.

Source: Author’s analysis of ESS 2014.

 

Summary

Across time, the picture is generally one of stability in terms of affiliation and attendance. There was some decline in self-assessed levels of religiosity; and a rise in the proportion who do not pray.

The examination of variation in levels of religious engagement across religious groups (defined by affiliation) and across sociodemographic groups tended to reaffirm the ‘conventional wisdom’ on which segments of wider society tend to be more (or less religious). Across faith traditions, Anglicans are least religiously engaged based on the measures used here, either separately or in combination. Sociodemographically, levels of religious engagement are higher amongst women, those aged 65 and older, and particularly so within those belonging to minority ethnic groups.


British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

This entry was posted in church attendance, Measuring religion, Research note, Survey news and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.