YouGov@Cambridge on Religion

On 30 April last, we reported on the virtual launch of YouGov@Cambridge (a collaboration between pollsters YouGov and the University of Cambridge’s Department of Politics and International Studies) and on the interim results from the first annual YouGov@Cambridge census of British life and attitudes. See:

Between 4 and 7 September, in advance of a two-day physical launch in Cambridge on 8-9 September, YouGov@Cambridge released final tables on the 2011 census, the fieldwork for which extended from 13 April to 20 May 2011 and involved online interviews with a representative sample of 64,303 adult Britons aged 18 and over (although most questions were put to sub-samples).

The new tables included the results for a module on religion, which had not featured in the interim release, and this post summarizes some of the main findings. For the full data, go to:

  • 40% of adults professed no religion, 55% were Christian and 5% of other faiths – age made a major difference, with only 38% of the 18-34s being Christian and 53% having no religion, whereas for the over-55s the figures were 70% and 26% respectively 
  • 74% of respondents had been brought up in some religion (including 70% as Christians, implying a net 15% leakage from Christianity over time) and 25% not, the latter figure rising to 39% among the 18-34s 
  • 35% described themselves as very or fairly religious and 63% as not very or not at all religious – there were no big variations by demographics (even by age), but Londoners (41%) did stand out as being disproportionately religious, doubtless reflecting the concentration of ethnic minorities in the capital 
  • 34% believed in a personal God or gods (ranging from 28% among the 18-34s to 42% of over-55s), 10% in some higher spiritual power, 19% in neither, with 29% unsure or agnostic 
  • 11% of respondents claimed to attend a religious service once a month or more, 27% less often, and 59% never – non-attendance was higher among the young (62% for the 18-34s) than the old (54% for the over-55s) and among manual workers (62%) than non-manuals (56%), while London had the best figure for monthly or more attendance (16%) 
  • 16% claimed to pray daily, 12% several times a week, 4% once a week, 7% several times a month, 4% once a month, 24% less often, and 29% never – men (34%) were more likely not to pray at all than women (24%) 
  • 79% agreed and 11% disagreed that religion is a cause of much misery and conflict in the world today 
  • 72% agreed and 15% disagreed that religion is used as an excuse for bigotry and intolerance, with a high of 81% in Scotland where sectarianism has often been rife 
  • 35% agreed and 45% disagreed that religion is a force for good in the world, dissentients being more numerous among men (50%) than women (41%) 
  • 78% (82% of the over-55s) agreed and 12% disagreed that religion should be a private matter and had no place in politics 
  • 16% agreed and 70% disagreed that Christians and the Church should have more influence over politics in the country – only among the over-55s did the proportion in favour of the proposition scrape above one-fifth 
  • 61% agreed and 18% disagreed that organized religion is in terminal decline in the UK – the over-55s (67%) were most prone to agree and Londoners (21%) to disagree 
  • 40% agreed and 40% disagreed that the decline of organized religion had made Britain a worse place – the over-55s (54%) were twice as likely to agree as the 18-34s (27%) 
  • 51% (57% in Scotland) agreed and 32% (37% among men) disagreed that all religions are equally valid 
  • 34% agreed and 49% disagreed that some religions are better than others, men (39%), the over-55s (38%), and Londoners (38%) being disproportionately likely to agree 
  • 49% agreed and 29% disagreed that it is good for children to be brought up within a religion – among the 18-34s opinion divided at 36% each (whereas for the over-55s 64% agreed and 22% disagreed) 
  • 40% agreed (rising to 46% of men and 44% of 18-34s) and 39% disagreed that religion is incompatible with modern scientific knowledge 
  • 29% agreed and 54% disagreed that there are some things in life which only religion can explain, the over-55s (35%) placing more trust in religion than the 18-34s (24%)

All in all, these data point to a society in which religion is increasingly in retreat and nominal. With the principal exception of the older age groups, many of those who claim some religious allegiance fail to underpin it by a belief in God or to translate it into regular prayer or attendance at a place of worship. People in general are more inclined to see the negative than the positive aspects of religion, and they certainly want to keep it well out of the political arena.

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

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8 Responses to YouGov@Cambridge on Religion

  1. Pingback: UK Religion: Final tables on the 2011 census | eChurch Blog

  2. Very useful, but I don’t understand how you got to your conclusion. The results here could easily be interpreted as an uptick in those claiming a religious affiliation, for example when compared with the results of the British Social Attitudes Survey. It is obviously quite difficult to compare the results of different surveys, but nevertheless, in this survey 60% claimed a religious affiliation, which is quite high compared with some surveys.

  3. Benita Hewitt says:

    (Good to see you here Church Mouse – hope you’re enjoying your time off from blogging!)

    I also have an issue with the comment that religion is becoming increasingly nominal. Looking at the ‘religious’ 55+ age group, 74% have a religion but only 45% pray at least once a month. With the 35-54s 59% claim to have a religion, but only 40% pray at least once a month and 33% never pray. But look at the ‘less religious’ 18-34s – only 47% have a religion but 43% pray at least once a month and nearly 70% pray at some point.

    Also look at attending a place of worship – 11% of 18-24s attend at least once a month (with only 47% having a religion) and 14% of 55+ attend at least once a month (with 74% having a religion).

    Is there a case here for stating that younger religious people are far less nominal than those over 55? And that we will see nominalism decline in future?

  4. Benita Hewitt says:

    Minor correction – it’s 43% of the total sample that pray at least once a month, and 41% of 18-34s. The point remains the same – the younger people are far less nominal than the older (if we assume that those who pray are largely those who have a religion).

  5. JD says:

    I hadn’t spotted that Benita, but now you say it, it does correlate with what I’ve thought for some time. Many of the older generation will claim membership of a religion even if they’re not religious (the old “put C of E down if you don’t know” type idea), but we’re definitely moving away from that towards a time when only the “true believers” will claim membership.

    At least we’ll get more accurate stats!

  6. Sehmus Sincar says:

    When I saw the title I was expecting different religion in numbers. However, your results does not mention any religion except Christianity and Atheism.

  7. Clive Field says:

    The comment by Sehmus Sincar has prompted BRIN to note that the URL for these YouGov data tables has moved (the frequent absence of permanent URLs is a major challenge for anybody trying to run an archive site). The new URL is:

    With regard to Sehmus’ specific query, only 5% of YouGov’s sample identified themselves as professing a non-Christian religion. The rest either had no religion or were Christians. Moreover, despite the size of the sample, YouGov did not report answers for this 5% separately. You will see from the tables that there are no breaks at all by religion, only by standard demographics (age, gender, social grade and region). Obviously, BRIN can only report and comment upon the data which actually enter the public domain.

    You will, of course, find data about other religions elsewhere on the BRIN site.

  8. Pingback: Why your city needs a church-planting movement « A Faith To Live By

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