How does the tendency to identify with a religion vary by birth cohort? By pooling a number of waves of the British Social Attitudes surveys, we can generate estimates for different religious groups. We can also break down the ‘Christian’ category, which government survey and Census data do not allow us to do.
The religious contexts of England, Scotland and Wales are quite different, so that it is useful to examine them separately. One issue is that the sample sizes for the oldest cohort (born 1900-1910) and the youngest (born in the 1980s) become a little small to allow reliable breakdowns for each broad religious grouping: Anglican, Roman Catholic, Non-denominational Christian, Free Churches, Other Christian, Other Religion and No Religion.
Therefore, we report breakdowns by five-year birth period for England, where sample sizes are larger, and by birth decade for Scotland and Wales, where sample sizes are smaller.
In each case, an increasing proportion of the younger birth cohorts report that they do not identify with a religious group. An increasing proportion also identify as a member of another religion besides Christian, or as ‘non-denominational Christian’. Some non-denominational Christians are members of independent churches, while others identify as ‘Christian’ as a cultural or ethnic marker without necessarily practising a faith.
Among those born between 1900 and 1909 in the English sample, 55 percent identify as Anglican and 16 percent as no religion. By comparison, among those born between 1980 and 1989 in the English sample, 9 percent identify as Anglican and 58 percent as no religion.
For the Scottish sample, among those born between 1900 and 1909, 56 percent identify as Church of Scotland and 16 percent as no religion. Among those born between 1980 and 1989, 12 percent identify as Church of Scotland and 63 percent as no religion. In both cases, the increase in ‘religious nones’ across successive birth cohorts appears to be largely at the expense of the established churches.