British Social Attitudes Survey, 2008

British Social Attitudes: The 26th Report by Alison Park and others was published by Sage on 26 January 2010 (£50, ISBN 9781849203876). It comprises a series of essays based upon the findings of the 2008 British Social Attitudes survey, conducted among a representative sample of adult Britons aged 18 and over. The survey has been undertaken by what is now NatCen annually since 1983 (except in 1988 and 1992), on behalf of a range of public-sector and third-sector clients and funders. A combination of face-to-face interviews and self-completion questionnaires is used.

As in 1991 and 1998 (when they formed a module of the International Social Survey Program), the 2008 British Social Attitudes survey included a large number of religion-related questions, especially funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the John Templeton Foundation and NORFACE. These underpinned two of the chapters in the published report, both written by members of the British Religion in Numbers project team at the Institute for Social Change, University of Manchester.

The first chapter is by David Voas and Rodney Ling on ‘Religion in Britain and the United States’ (pp. 65-86), for which a press release will be found at:

NatCen’s official summary of this chapter reads: ‘There has been a sharp decline in religious faith in Britain, while in America people are much less likely to be atheist or agnostic. Despite this difference, people in Britain and America hold similar views about the place of religion in society. Most people are pragmatic: religion has personal and social benefits, but faith should not be taken too far. From politics to private life, many domains are seen as off limits to clerical involvement. Our research also revealed that just over half of people in Britain (52%) fear that the UK is deeply divided along religious lines and are particularly concerned about Islam compared with other faiths.’

The other chapter is by Siobhan McAndrew on ‘Religious Faith and Contemporary Attitudes’ (pp. 87-113), which is summarized as follows: ‘People who are religious hold more traditional attitudes towards family and personal relationships. Half of religious people believe that homosexual sex is always or almost always wrong compared with one in five of unreligious people. One in five religious people agree that it is the man’s job to earn money and the woman’s job to stay at home and look after the home and family compared with one in ten of the unreligious.’

These two chapters by no means exhaust the religion-related potential of the 2008 British Social Attitudes Survey, as will become clear when the dataset is released for secondary analysis by the Economic and Social Data Service. Meanwhile, a glimpse of the relevant subjects and topline results can be found in the questionnaire, which is available at:

See, in particular: face-to-face questionnaire, Q656-Q844, Q1111-1119; self-completion questionnaire version A, Q8-Q34; and self-completion questionnaire version C, Q17-Q34. The total number of respondents for the 2008 survey was 4,486, although many questions were only posed to sub-samples.

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

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

2 Responses to British Social Attitudes Survey, 2008

  1. Well, this is a tad self-referential, but I’ll add a link to some slides here which include some of the headline figures, and a graph of the distribution of scores on a religiosity scale and a bioethical attitudes scale. I presented them at a conference in Denver last October.

    For me, it wasn’t so surprising that religiosity is correlated with attitudes to abortion, embryo cell experimentation and suchlike. More religious people are also more likely to say that premarital sex, and homosexual sex, is wrong. But religiosity seems to have very little to do with attitudes to extra-marital sex – most people think it’s bad behaviour (though as one friend said sardonically, a certain proportion must just be lying either to themselves or the interviewer). The more religious are more likely to say that “wives should stay home and husbands should work” but it’s still a very small minority of that group – households have just too much to gain perhaps by women working.

    Finally, religiosity seems to affect the propensity to support either Labour or the Conservatives rather than none, which I thought surprising. I had thought it likely that political identities might shape personal religiosity – that people partly reconcile their religiosity to harmonise with their political world-view. Robert Putnam presented findings in Denver from his and David Campbell’s American Grace (2010, forthcoming) that in the US, being a Democrat or Republican seems to causally affect your choice of joining a more liberal or conservative church. But what I’ve found so far is that with the British data, the opposite relationship (religiosity affecting party choice) seems to hold, and there are various possibilities why – a “freezing” of party systems (following Lipset & Rokkan), or perhaps there is an unobserved factor which determines both personal religiosity and party choice. At any rate, I have more work to do here – it’s an interesting question why, in a highly secular country, religion might still affect political party support.

  2. Pingback: British Religion in Numbers: news

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.