A Baker’s Dozen of Religious Statistics


Civil and religious marriages

A press release from the University of Oxford on 21 July 2015 highlighted the relentless decline in the number of marriages in England and Wales which are legally solemnized in religious ceremonies. They now account for just 30% of the total, although this figure excludes civil marriages which are followed by a service in a place of worship that carries no legal recognition; this is widely the case with marriages for Muslims and Sikhs. The fall in religious ceremonies, which can be traced back to the 1970s, has been especially pronounced since the passage of the Marriage Act 1994, which permitted marriages in ‘approved premises’ (such as hotels, castles, and stately homes). Until the Act came into effect, the majority of first marriages for both partners were still religious ceremonies. The new research is based on an analysis of official data on the solemnization of marriages, from the beginning of civil registration in the early Victorian era, undertaken by John Haskey, formerly of the Office for National Statistics. It will be published in full next month in Haskey’s chapter entitled ‘Marriage Rites: Trends in Marriages by Manner of Solemnisation and Denomination in England and Wales, 1841-2012’ in Marriage Rites and Rights, edited by Joanna Miles, Perveez Mody, and Rebecca Probert (Hart Publishing, ISBN 9781849469135, paperback, £35). The volume will also contain three other chapters on the religious aspects of marriage. In the meantime, the University of Oxford’s press release can be read at: 


Babies in the 2011 census

In the latest post on the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network blog, dated 25 July 2015, Katherine Sissons examines the religion assigned to babies and young children (aged 0-4) in England and Wales in the 2011 census. She notes that males in this age group were 1% less likely than females to be returned as Christian and 1% more likely to be described as having no religion. She speculates about the possible reasons for this and about the potential impact on the balance between religiosity and non-religiosity in the next generation. However, she rather assumes that the assignment of religion to children is some kind of joint decision of parents completing the census schedule. In fact, many if not most questions on the form will have been answered by a single individual on behalf of the whole household, whose members – whether adults or children – may or may not have been consulted in detail about the proposed replies. Other generic issues, not mentioned by the author, are that religion was not stated for 1% more children (under 16 years) than adults (8% against 7%) and that 6% more children (30% versus 24% for adults) were declared as having no religion. It is possible that, in the case of children, some informants may have been using the latter category, not according to its literal meaning, but to denote that their offspring were too young to be religiously classified and that this was a matter about which their children had to make up their minds when they were older. After all, two-thirds of babies are no longer baptised in the UK, so, at least so far as Christianity is concerned, formal links with faith do not commence early in life. The post is at:


Importance of religion

The latest Eurobarometer (wave 83.3), conducted by TNS for the European Commission in the 28 member states of the European Union (EU) in May 2015, has confirmed that, relatively speaking, religion remains an insignificant personal value. Asked to choose, from a list of 12 values, the three which were most important to them as individuals, only 5% in the UK selected religion, which was also the EU average (with just six countries recording a double-digit figure). Respect for human life was the top personal value in the UK (41%), closely followed by human rights and peace (each on 38%). Religion also scored poorly as a force for creating a feeling of community among EU citizens (7% in the UK, 8% in the EU) and as a value best representing the EU itself (3% in both the UK and EU). Topline results can be found in T123-T128 at:     


Religious affiliation

Three recent published surveys by ORB International, conducted among a merged sample of 6,107 adults interviewed online on 19-21 June, 10-12 July, and 24-26 July 2015, reveal the current level of religious affiliation in Britain. The question asked was: ‘Which of the following religious groups do you consider yourself to be a member of?’ This is a form of questioning which, through its reference to ‘membership’, is felt likely to discourage some of the most nominal identification with religion. In reply, 52% of Britons professed themselves Christian, 7% non-Christian, and 38% as of no religion, with 2% preferring not to say.   

Religious broadcasting

Figures published on 16 July 2015 in the Government’s Green Paper on the renewal of the BBC Charter superficially reveal a reduction in the amount of the Corporation’s religious programming during recent years, from 181 hours on network television in 2006 to 157 in 2014, and from 1,084 hours on radio in 2006 to 592 in 2014. However, some of the difference may be attributable to a change in the BBC’s classification scheme over this period. The Green Paper is at: 


Ministerial stress

Stress in the Christian ministry has been in the news recently following the suspected stress-related suicide of Revd Christopher Loveless, an Anglican vicar. His plight is by no means atypical, if the findings of a survey conducted by Oasis UK among a self-selecting sample of 200 ministers and church leaders are anything like representative. Although 86% of respondents described their ministry as very or quite rewarding, 71% found their role very or quite stressful, 65% reported that it had put strain on their marrage or equivalent relationship, while 64% felt incredibly pushed for time and struggled to get everything done. Over two-fifths sensed that their church members had little or no understanding of the pressures they were under. Indeed, they could make the situation worse, 76% of ministers acknowledging that church members regularly behaved rudely or aggressively toward them. A news release about the survey is at:     


Church of England (1): diversity

Further to our reference on 19 July 2015 to the preliminary results of the Church of England’s ‘Everyone Counts’ diversity audit in 2014, the Church has now felt it necessary to issue a public apology for failing to include any question about the sexual orientation of its congregations in the audit. The statement, released on 24 July, is at: 


Church of England (2): finance

Finance Statistics, 2013 for the Church of England (excluding the Diocese of Europe) were published on 30 July 2015. Following three years of parish deficits in 2007-10, mirroring the national economic recession, the financial situation is now improving in absolute terms. A surplus of £33 million was reported in 2013, with income of £953 million (the highest total ever recorded) surpassing expenditure of £920 million. The latter figure was 1.0% down on 2012, reflecting cost reductions, while income rose by 2.6% overall and by 4.5% from the average individual tax-efficient planned giver. However, income is continuing to fall in real terms, and there was a decrease of 2.8% in the number of regular donors. The report is at: 


British Humanist Association membership

Organized irreligion may be suffering from the same ageing membership as is to be found in many traditional Churches, if new research from Gareth Longden is anything to go by: ‘A Profile of the Members of the British Humanist Association’ [BHA], Science, Religion & Culture, Vol. 2, No. 3, June 2015, pp. 86-95. The article derives from a questionnaire completed by 1,097 members of the BHA in March-May 2014, just under one-tenth of the organization’s total membership and slightly more than half those invited to participate. Comparisons are made with an earlier membership survey carried out by Colin Campbell in 1964, shortly after the BHA was formed. In 2014 65% of BHA members were aged 50 and over, against 38% fifty years before. In consequence 37% were already retired in 2014, compared with only 14% in 1964. The BHA remained disproportionately male, albeit less so than in 1964 (65% versus 73%). The BHA also lived up to its reputation for being a ‘middle class intelligentsia’, with 82% of members in 2014 in possession of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree and the overwhelming majority in professional or managerial occupations, especially in education and information technology. Spatially, humanists were concentrated in the South of England, notably in London and the South-East. The article is available on an open access basis at: 


Jewish social care

The Jewish population of the UK may only have numbered 270,000 in 2011, but there are no fewer than 549 social care organizations and 702 social care facilities and services to meet their needs. Even after stripping out small operations to support the economically deprived in the haredi community, there still remain 70 organizations and 205 facilities or services. This is according to preliminary findings from an audit of Jewish social care undertaken by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) on behalf of the Jewish Leadership Council, and released on 23 July 2015. Indeed, in Jewish communities experiencing population decline there was evidence of a possible over-supply of social care provision. On the other hand, in JPR’s estimation, insufficient effort is being devoted to poverty prevention among UK Jews. For more information, see the blog by Jonathan Boyd at: 


Anti-Semitic incidents

On 30 July 2015 the Community Security Trust (CST) published a report on Antisemitic Incidents, January-June 2015 in the UK, noting that the number during this period was, at 473, 53% more than during the first six months of 2014. The increase was most pronounced during the first quarter of 2015 and is mainly attributed by the CST to improved notification of incidents, due to raised concerns about anti-Semitism in the Jewish community following the terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen. The report is at: 


Islamic State (1): flag

Just over three-quarters (77%) of the public want to see the display of the Islamic State (IS) flag banned in Britain, according to a YouGov poll conducted online among 1,669 adults on 9-10 July 2015 and published on 19 July. The proportion rises to 84% among residents of Northern England, 87% of Conservatives, and 88% of UKIP voters and over-60s. Just 15% think the IS flag should not be banned, peaking at 25% of 18-24s. Similar results were obtained for a question on the prohibition of the display of the Nazi swastika in Britain, 75% being in favour and 17% against. In the United States, where the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, there is lower but still majority backing for banning the display of the IS flag (63%) and swastika (57%). More details, including links to data tables, can be found in the blog at: 


Islamic State (2): escalating UK military actions

Two recent polls have probed public opinion on the possible escalation of UK military action against IS in the light of an anticipated House of Commons debate on the subject next month. The first, by ORB International and conducted online among a sample of 2,049 Britons on 24-26 July 2015, revealed 67% support for an extension of UK air strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria, including 76% of over-65s. Fewer (41%) endorsed the commitment of UK ground troops and tanks, with 59% opposed, reaching two-thirds among women and the over-55s. Data tables are at:  


The second survey, by ComRes for the Daily Mail, was conducted by telephone interview with 1,001 Britons, also on 24-26 July 2015. Its focus was specifically on possible British military intervention against IS in Syria. There was majority support (56%, with 33% opposed) for air strikes against IS in Syria but reluctance (41% in favour, 49% against) to engage British troops in Syria. Almost two-fifths (38%) agreed, while 49% disagreed, that Britain should not become militarily involved in Syria but should stand back and let the situation there run its course. However, few considered that British military action against IS in Syria would materially improve prospects. Asked whether it would make places safer or more dangerous, just 16% felt the streets of Britain would be safer, 19% tourist beaches in North Africa, 21% the Middle East generally, and 27% the situation on the ground in Syria itself. Two-fifths (39%) thought the streets of Britain would become more dangerous as a result of British military action against IS in Syria. Data tables are at:  



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