After General Synod, Religion and Health

In today’s news round-up, BRIN covers a poll of public attitudes to current issues in the Church of England, following General Synod’s narrowest of rejections of women bishops, and some interesting research into the relationships between religion and health.

Church of England after General Synod

Last Tuesday’s failure of the Measure for Women Bishops to gain the necessary two-thirds majority in all three houses of General Synod (it fell short in the House of Laity) seems to have impacted negatively on the image of the Church of England. In the first test of public opinion since the synodical vote, 76% of adults say that the Church is out of touch with society. The proportion varies relatively little by demographics (even by age), ranging from a low of 71% among professing Anglicans to 81% of Liberal Democrats (whose party policy is to disestablish the Church). Just 8% believe the Church to be in touch (and no more than 12% of Anglicans), with 16% uncertain.

Support for women bishops in the Church of England now runs at 78%, virtually unchanged from the 77% recorded by YouGov in its poll on 8-9 November 2012. The strongest backing again comes from Liberal Democrats (90%), with Labour voters on 84%, and Conservatives on 73%. Women are slightly more in favour than men, and non-manual than manual workers. The regional spread is from 71% in London to 81% in Northern England. Anglican endorsement (77%) runs near the national average. Opposition to women bishops stands at 10% (peaking at 13% in the Midlands and Wales and among Conservatives), with 11% undecided.

Some politicians and commentators have suggested that Parliament should intervene to force the Church of England to accept women bishops; this would involve the removal of the Church’s exemptions under the Equality Act 2010. One-third (34%) of Britons endorse such intervention, Londoners and the over-60s (29%) being the least enthusiastic and Labour voters the most (39%). On the other side, 49% say that it is a matter for the Church to decide and that it would be an attack on religious freedom for Parliament to become involved. Anglicans (57%), the over-60s (57%), and Conservatives (55%) are most inclined to take this position. The remaining 17% have no firm view.

It has also been speculated that the failure of the Measure for Women Bishops will undermine the credibility of the Church of England in opposing impending Government legislation for same-sex marriage in England and Wales. Almost one-half (48%) of Britons criticize the Church for this opposition, rising to two-thirds of the 18-24s and Liberal Democrats. A further 38% support the Church’s stance, peaking at 54% of the over-60s, 53% of Conservatives, and 50% of Anglicans. The don’t knows number 13%.

Source: Online survey by YouGov of 1,812 adult Britons aged 18 and over on 22-23 November 2012, on behalf of The Sunday Times. Detailed tables available on p. 9 of:

Religion and health in Scotland

BRIN readers will be relieved to know that recent Scottish research concluded ‘there was no significant association between toothache and religion’. However, a complex set of other relationships between health and religion was demonstrated. So, pursuing the dental line of enquiry, we find that ‘Religious faith appears to have a strong association with how many natural teeth respondents have. Only 69% of Roman Catholics had 20 or more natural teeth, which was significantly lower than the national average of 72%. Muslims were the most likely to have twenty or more natural teeth (95%) followed by Hindus (93%) and Buddhists (89%).’

On alcohol, those professing no religion were the most likely to drink excessively, and Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists the least likely. Smoking was also more prevalent than average among the nones, and among Roman Catholics as well, and most uncommon with Muslims and Protestant Christians beyond the Kirk. On the other hand, the nones were most likely and Muslims the least likely to meet the recommended level of physical activity. Buddhists and Hindus had the lowest prevalence of obesity and Church of Scotland adherents the most. Muslims had a much higher incidence of diabetes than the norm but the second lowest experience of cardio-vascular disease, the latter particularly affecting Catholics and Buddhists. Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus were well above the national average in meeting the 5-a-day guideline intake of fruit and vegetables. 

In terms of overall self-assessed health, 76% of Scots evaluated it as very good or good. For the various faith groups, the range was from 70% for Buddhists and Muslims to 92% for Hindus, with the Church of Scotland on 78%, Roman Catholics on 72%, other Christians on 77%, and those of no religion on 75%. Hindus also had the highest levels of positive mental well-being.

The report on the research mostly confines itself to documenting the two-way correlations between religion and health. There are obviously limits to what can be achieved in putting forward possible explanations of these relationships without proceeding to some form of multivariate analysis. Clearly, it seems probable that the patterns will be differentially affected by such factors as the age, socio-economic, and ethnic profiles of each of the faith groups. Neither is there any control for religious practice, which would have been particularly interesting given existing research (disproportionately American) suggesting a positive link between churchgoing and health.  

Source: Aggregate analysis of the last four years (2008-11) of the Scottish Health Survey, in which data were collected on 28,770 Scottish adults aged 16 and over and resident in private households by means of face-to-face interview and self-completion questionnaire. Fieldwork was undertaken by ScotCen Social Research on behalf of the Scottish Government and NHS Health Scotland. The religious profile of the sample was found to be: no religion (41%), Church of Scotland (32%), Roman Catholic (15%), other Christian (9%), non-Christian (3%). However, sub-samples of non-Christians were relatively small (220 Muslims, 63 Buddhists, 59 Hindus, and 418 others). Detailed tables of results appear on pp. 71-88 of Paul Whybrow, Julie Ramsay and Karen MacNee, The Scottish Health Survey: Topic Report – Equality Groups, published by the Scottish Government on 30 October 2012 and available at:


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