From St George to Prince George

Prince George and St George both feature in today’s round-up of religious statistical news, which contains five items.

Prince George’s christening

The private christening ceremony for His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge, which took place yesterday (23 October 2013), seems to have attracted more media and public attention than might have been anticipated. One dimension of this was a short poll conducted by YouGov the day before the christening, and released on the day of the christening, in which 1,892 adult Britons were interviewed online. The data table can be found at:

According to the poll, 43% of Britons still consider ceremonies such as christenings or baptisms to be important, but they are disproportionately found among professing Christians (64%), and the over-60s and Conservative voters (58% each), with only one-third of under-40s thinking such ceremonies to be relevant. By contrast, a majority of adults (52%) do not regard baptisms as important, rising to 57% for men, 57% for the 25-59 age group (the key one for child-rearing), 66% of Scots, and 73% of non-Christians.

The same proportion who agree that baptism remains important, 43%, say that they would prefer their own child (if they had one) to be baptised as a baby, increasing to 58% of over-60s and 68% of Christians. A plurality (47%) contends that children should make up their own mind when older, this being especially the view of Scots (62%) and non-Christians (69%).

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has expressed the hope that Prince George’s christening will encourage others to seek baptism for their children. Almost half (45%) of YouGov’s respondents anticipate that the royal christening will, indeed, boost the number of baptisms in the country, Conservatives being most confident (54%). A similar amount (44%) anticipate that there will be no change in the occurrence of baptisms.

On the face of it, there seems little basis for any optimism, since the long-term trend in baptisms has been relentlessly downwards. In the case of the Church of England, the best source of data, infant baptisms represented 66% of live births in England when first reported in 1902. The figure peaked at 72% in the 1920s but nosedived from the mid-1950s, dipping below 30% in 1987, below 20% in 2000, and standing at 12% in 2011.

For the United Kingdom as a whole, Dr Peter Brierley has assembled a picture from actual and estimated data for all Christian denominations which practise infant baptism. In Table 2.2 of UK Christian Handbook, Religious Trends, No. 3 (2001), he shows the ratio of baptisms to live births peaking (at around 90%) in the inter-war and immediate post-war period before falling to 74% in 1960, 64% in 1970, 53% in 1980, and 42% in 1990. A revised calculation, in Table 13.8.3 of UK Church Statistics, 2005-2015 (2011), reveals a decline from 55% in 1991 to 34% in 2010, Anglicans in the four home nations having a baptismal market share of 58% by 2010, Roman Catholics 36%, and other Protestants 6%.

Religion and loneliness

Sample surveys can sometimes be useful in contrasting perception with reality. A case in point is provided by a new poll on loneliness commissioned by the BBC from ComRes for this year’s Radio 2 Faith in the World Week, in which 3,010 adult Britons were interviewed by telephone between 13 and 29 September 2013. Full data tables were published on 18 October and are available at:

Respondents were asked whether they perceived that people with a religious faith are less likely to feel lonely than people without such beliefs. Overall, opinion was divided on the issue, with 44% thinking people of faith are less likely to feel lonely and 47% that they are not. Significantly, the highest level of agreement with the statement (59%) was found among the quarter of the sample who claimed to practise their religion (in private or in public) at least once a month, perhaps implying that religion minimizes loneliness through the associational opportunities it provides and/or the comfort which it brings.

However, when interviewees were asked whether they themselves ever felt lonely, those who practised a religion were actually more likely than average to experience loneliness in some degree (55% against 48%), with even higher figures for practising Christians (57%) and those who live alone and are religious (68%). Individuals who do not practise a religion were slightly less likely than average to experience loneliness (46%), albeit this rose to 62% among the non-religious who live on their own. The highest incidence of acute loneliness (being felt all the time or regularly) in the survey was among religious individuals who lived alone (14%, more than twice the mean).

Similarly, people who practise a religion were more likely than average to report that they felt more lonely than 10 years ago (28% against 22%), while the proportion fell to 20% for those who do not practise a religion. Those who live alone and are religious were the group most likely (43%) to admit to being lonelier than a decade ago.

The apparent conundrum (that religion might increase rather than diminish loneliness) is perhaps largely explained by the fact that the over-65 cohort has the highest concentration of people who claim to practise their religion (32% versus the norm of 24%) and who live on their own (54% compared with 26% for Britain as a whole). Not unnaturally, living on one’s own is closely associated with a sense of loneliness.

All the saints

The English would like to see St George’s Day celebrated more, despite the fact that only 40% are aware of exactly when it falls (23 April). This compares with 71% who know that United States Independence Day is on 4 July and 42% that St Patrick’s Day is on 17 March. Two-thirds consider that St Patrick’s Day is now more widely celebrated here than the English patron saint’s day, with only 7% arguing that St George gets more attention. Three-quarters say that they would like to see this situation change, 41% blaming the absence of a bank holiday for St George’s Day as a reason for the lack of commemoration, and 35% attributing it to politicians’ failing to focus on St George’s Day. A majority (61%) also wants the St George’s flag flown more across the country. The findings come from a poll by ICM Research for British Future in connection with the latter’s recent Festival of Englishness. Online interviews were conducted with 2,360 adults in Britain on 9-11 October 2013, including 1,739 in England. Results have been reported in various online media.

Church of England ministry statistics

The Research and Statistics Division of the Archbishops’ Council published Statistics for Mission, 2012 – Ministry on 18 October 2013. It comprises 15 tables and 21 figures preceded by a summary and explanatory notes. The Church of England had 28,314 licensed ministers in 2012, 65% of whom received no stipend. Licensed stipendiary (mainly parochial) clergy comprised just 29% of this total, their numbers reduced by 13% since 2002. This decline was offset by a rise of 51% in self-supporting clergy over the decade, who are disproportionately female (52% in 2012 against 23% of full-time stipendiary clergy). A 6% fall in stipendiary clergy is forecast for the next five years, entirely among men, with women clergy expected to increase slowly. Women constituted 47% of candidates recommended for ordination training in 2012, but they were significantly older than male candidates; whereas 60% of male ordinands were under 40, 72% of women were over 40. The average age of full-time stipendiary clergy increased between 2002 and 2012, from 50 to 52 years for men and from 48 to 51 for women. Very few stipendiary clergy (3%) come from ethnic minority backgrounds. The report can be found at:

Veils reprised

The debate about the veiling of Muslim women rumbles on, with fresh polling data released by Survation on 14 October 2013 from its immigration study conducted for Sky News on 27-29 September 2013 among an online sample of 1,508 Britons aged 18 and over. Data tables (of which those for questions 40 to 46 are relevant for our immediate purpose) have been posted at:

As with other surveys reported on BRIN, the majority in the Survation poll was opposed to this particular aspect of Islamic women’s dress, the proportion varying somewhat dependent upon the context:

  • 84% want the wearing of full face coverings such as the niqab to be banned in courtrooms for people giving evidence (11% disagreeing)
  • 80% want bank managers/owners to be free to ban face coverings on their premises (13% disagreeing)
  • 72% want the wearing of full face coverings such as the niqab to be banned for all front-line staff in hospitals (8% disagreeing, with a further 16% thinking it should be for individual hospitals to determine)
  • 70% want petrol station managers/owners to be free to ban face coverings on their premises (22% disagreeing)
  • 68% want shop managers/owners to be free to ban face coverings on their premises (25% disagreeing)
  • 68% want the wearing of full face coverings such as the niqab to be banned for all schoolchildren in classrooms (10% disagreeing, with a further 19% thinking it should be for individual schools to determine)
  • 66% want university managers/owners to be free to ban face coverings on their premises (27% disagreeing)
  • 66% do not want schools to be able to require pupils to wear face covering veils and want the government to prevent them from doing so (26% disagreeing)
  • 60% want the wearing of full face coverings such as the niqab to be banned in public streets and open spaces (32% disagreeing)
  • 56% consider that women who wear full face covering veils like the niqab are more responsible for creating divisions and tensions in our society than the politicians and journalists who criticize veil-wearing women (26%)



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