British Social Attitudes Survey, 2010

‘Britain is becoming less religious, with the numbers who affiliate with a religion or attend religious services experiencing a long-term decline. And this trend seems set to continue; not only as older, more religious generations are replaced by younger, less religious ones, but also as the younger generations increasingly opt not to bring up their children in a religion – a factor shown to strongly link with religious affiliation and attendance later in life.’

This is the headline conclusion from Lucy Lee’s chapter on religion (pp. 173-83) in British Social Attitudes, 28, 2011-2012 Edition (London: SAGE Publications, ISBN 9781446252581), which was published on 7 December 2011. Edited by Alison Park, Elizabeth Clery, John Curtice, Miranda Phillips and David Utting, the entire volume can – for the first time ever in the history of British Social Attitudes (BSA) – be downloaded free from the day of publication from:

The book reports on data from the 2010 BSA, which was undertaken by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, the Hera Trust and a consortium of Government departments. Face-to-face interviews were conducted, between June and November 2010, with a representative sample of 3,297 British adults aged 18 and over living in private households, most of whom also filled in a supplementary self-completion questionnaire.

Among the detailed results in Lee’s chapter are the following:

  • 50% of Britons in 2010 said that they did not belong to any particular religion (19% more than in 1983), peaking at 64% for the 18-24s with a low of 28% among the over-65s
  • 20% were Anglicans (half the proportion in 1983), 9% Catholics, 15% other Christians, and 6% non-Christians
  • 79% stated that they had been brought up in some religion, a drop of 7% on 2005, and representing a net leakage rate (against current affiliation) of 29%
  • No evidence was found of people becoming more religious as they grew older; indeed, across several BSA surveys each generation was less likely than its predecessor to be born into religious families, with the lack of religiosity tending to remain with individuals as they aged
  • Persons brought up as non-Christians were more likely (87%) to have retained their religion to the present than cradle Catholics (62%) or Anglicans (49%), with those reared without religion being least likely to change their ‘affiliation’ (94%)
  • 56% of those who affiliated to and/or were brought up in a religion never frequented religious services, 7% more than in 1990, with 23% claiming to attend at least monthly (including 18% of Anglicans, 45% of Catholics, and 60% of non-Christians)

‘What does this decline mean for society and social policy more generally?’ Lee answers her question thus: ‘On the one hand, we can expect to see a continued increase in liberal attitudes towards a range of issues such as abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and euthanasia, as the influence of considerations grounded in religion declines. Moreover, we may see an increased reluctance, particularly among the younger age groups, for matters of faith to enter the social and public spheres at all.’

One of Lee’s endnotes helpfully attempts to explain the divergence in affiliation figures between BSA and the 2001 census (which found higher levels of religious allegiance). She attributes the apparent discrepancy to variations in question-wording and response options, coupled with contextual differences, the census question on religion following one on ethnicity, which may have ‘contaminated’ the answers about religion.

Another chapter in the same volume which features religion quite a bit is Sonia Exley’s on school choice. One of its key findings is that people of faith tended to agree that parents should have a basic right to choose their child’s school more than the mean (68%) or those without a religion (64%). This was especially true of Roman Catholics (75%) and non-Christians (88%). However, only 16% of the whole sample supported parents becoming involved in local religious activities just to help get their children into a high-performing faith school.

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

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