British Social Attitudes, 2011

The twenty-ninth report from the British Social Attitudes (BSA) Survey was published by NatCen Social Research on 17 September 2012, less than a year after the completion of the fieldwork (June-November 2011) on which it is based.

As usual, the 2011 BSA was undertaken through a combination of face-to-face interviews and self-completion questionnaires with adult Britons aged 18 and over. The full sample comprised 3,311 individuals, albeit some questions were put only to sub-samples.

Edited by Alison Park, Elizabeth Clery, John Curtice, Miranda Phillips and David Utting, the book-length report on British Social Attitudes, 29 is available for free download from:

The annotated questionnaire for the survey can be found at:

Although the dataset is not yet available through the Economic and Social Data Service, the 2011 data have already been loaded into the British Social Attitudes Information System, through whose website weighted results for each question can be viewed, disaggregated by demographics. Go to:

There was no special module on religion in the 2011 survey, but several questions of potential interest to BRIN users were included.

Asked whether they regarded themselves as belonging to any particular religion, 44% of adults replied in the negative. This was a lower proportion than in 2010 (50%) but much higher than when the question had first been put in 1983 (31%). It also represented a big increase on the 17% of 2011 interviewees who had not been brought up in any religion, suggesting that very many relinquish faith on transition to adulthood.

The number professing no religion varied substantially by age, peaking among the 18-24s (65%) and falling steadily to 18% among the over-75s. The age differential also largely explains the high of 57% for the never married and the low of 25% for the widowed. Gender was likewise significant, with 51% of men against 39% of women having no faith.

Regionally, Wales (historically a heartland of Nonconformity) reported the greatest incidence of irreligion (58%) and Greater London (formerly renowned for its poor religious allegiance but now boosted by religiously-minded immigrants) one of the lowest (42%). The Midlands, another centre of immigration, recorded 41%.

Very regular (once a week or more) attendance at religious services (other than for rites of passage) was claimed by 14%, almost certainly an exaggeration, while 58% said that they never attended public worship, just a modest rise on 53% in 1991. The picture is complicated by the fact that this question was apparently answered by very many, albeit not all, of those professing no religion.

In fact, 13% of the irreligious stated that they sometimes attended religious services. Anglicans had the highest total non-attendance (56%), with Roman Catholics on 28%, other Christians on 39%, and non-Christians on 29%. Men (65%) were more likely never to attend than women (54%). Variation by age cohort was between 54% and 65%, by marital status between 56% and 64%, and by region between 54% and 65%.

Other questions explored attitudes to Muslims. In the main (face-to-face) questionnaire, randomly-chosen sub-samples were asked for their views on three groups of migrants to Britain (labour migrants, student migrants, and family reunion migrants) originating from various geographical contexts, one of them being ‘Muslim countries like Pakistan’. 

An analysis of the results is given in the chapter on immigration (pp. 26-44) by Robert Ford, Gareth Morrell and Anthony Heath, which appears in British Social Attitudes, 29, especially on pp. 35-40. In respect of Muslims, public opinion was found to be more nuanced than has usually been assumed yet there remained some underlying prejudice.

Regarding labour migration, while 61% said that Muslim professionals filling jobs was good for Britain, only 17% said the same about unskilled Muslim labourers and even fewer (10%) about the same group searching for work. This professional/unskilled split was generic, but net support for Muslim migrants still tended to be less than from East Europe. Indeed, on several measures of the economic and cultural impact of migration there was a clear net preference for East Europeans over Muslims.

A similar trend was evident for student migration. Although the public was much more well-disposed to student migrants in general with good grades than bad grades, regardless of region of origin, net support for students with good grades from Muslim countries was smaller than from the other three geographical clusters, and net opposition to student migrants with bad grades was slightly higher for those from Muslim countries than West Europe or East Asia.

The pattern was repeated for family reunion migration, with which the public is unhappy overall. At 57%, net opposition to migrants from Muslim countries bringing their family to live in Britain for three years was very much greater than for family reunion migration from West Europe. The disparity remained when the period of settlement was extended to ten years, albeit family reunion migration from Africa was then perceived somewhat more negatively than from Muslim countries. 

Version C of the self-completion questionnaire, put to one-third of the sample, explored another dimension of anti-Muslim prejudice, asking respondents how comfortable they would be if a close relative married or otherwise entered into a relationship with a person who grew up in a Muslim country. Answers were recorded on a scale running from 0 to 10.

23% of respondents were very uncomfortable (0 or 1) about this prospect and 22% very comfortable (9 0r 10). Least discomfort was felt by the 18-24s (10%) and Scots (14%). Most discomfort was manifested by the over-65s (including 38% for the 65-74s), with age also probably contributing to highs for those with no educational qualifications (44%) and the widowed (38%).

The 2011 BSA findings on religious affiliation were highlighted in the notes for editors section of a BBC press release on 12 September concerning the Corporation’s RE:THINK 2012 Religion and Ethics Festival, hosted in Salford recently.

In connection with the Festival, the BBC commissioned its own research from TNS BMRB among 585 16- to 24-year-olds, interviewed face-to-face between 15 and 21 August 2012.

Asked to rank the most important moral issue for them, having religious faith or beliefs featured in equal penultimate place in a list of eight options, scoring just 4% compared with 59% of the young who selected looking after family. Moreover, religion was considered the least important moral issue by 32% of respondents.

The BBC press release can be found at:


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

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4 Responses to British Social Attitudes, 2011

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