Life After the Census

The 2011 census of population may be by far the most significant religious statistical source to have been published this week, but there have been a few other reports, too, which are worthy of note. Here we highlight four which appeared on 11 or 12 December 2012.

Same-sex marriage

Just over half the population (53%) supports the broad thrust of what we now know to be Government plans in England and Wales to legislate for a) the civil marriage of same-sex couples and b) religious bodies to have the freedom, if they so choose, to offer religious marriages to same-sex couples. Endorsement is particularly strong among Liberal Democrat voters (66%) and those aged 25-39 (64%). Opposition stands at 37% and is especially pronounced among the over-60s (47%), men (44%), and Conservative voters (42%). 10% are undecided. It should be noted that fieldwork for the survey was completed before the Government unveiled its detailed plans on 11 December, so the question could not have anticipated that Government intends it to be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to offer same-sex marriages.

Forced to take sides, however, as many as 46% of adults think that the right of Churches to restrict religious marriages to a man and a woman should take precedence over the right of same-sex couples to get married, and this is strongly felt by the over-60s (64%) and Conservative voters (60%). Only 27% say that the right of same-sex couples should take priority over the Churches’ wishes, with a further 27% unsure. This pro-Church position partly reflects the concern expressed by 34% that campaigners would be able to use the Human Rights Act to get the courts to force religious bodies to offer same-sex marriages on their premises, even if they objected.  

Source: Online survey by YouGov of 1,729 adult Britons aged 18 and over on 9-10 December 2012. Data tables published on 11 December at:

Inter-faith relationships

A majority of Britons (58%) is comfortable with the prospect of a child or grandchild entering into a serious relationship or marriage with someone who practises a different faith. This is a greater level of comfort than about relationships with a person with a disability or longstanding health condition (51%), somebody of the same sex (45%), a resident of another country (41%), a person 15 years older or younger (35%), an individual experiencing long-term unemployment (23%), or somebody with a criminal record (14%). However, it is a lower proportion than those prepared to contemplate a relationship across the racial or ethnic divide (62%), or with a person from a much poorer (68%) or wealthier (77%) background.

A further 26% are neutral in their views about inter-faith relationships, while 16% are uncomfortable. Discomfort is most keenly felt by those who are also uncomfortable about inter-racial relationships (44%), Asians (34%), non-whites in general (25%), residents of the Midlands and East of England (21%), and the over-65s (19%). An above-average level of comfort about inter-faith relationships is displayed by the top (AB) social group and the 55-64 age cohort, 63% in each case.

Source: Online survey by Britain Thinks on behalf of British Future, undertaken on 23-25 November 2012 among 2,149 Britons aged 18 and over. Topline data were published on 11 December 2012 in Rob Ford, Rachael Jolley, Sunder Katwala and Binita Mehta, The Melting Pot Generation: How Britain Became More Relaxed on Race (London: British Future, 2012) and available at:

The full data tables can be found at:

Online social networking

In a multinational survey undertaken earlier this year, Britain came top of the 21 nations surveyed for the proportion of adults (52%) reporting that they use online social networking sites such as Facebook, just ahead of the United States and Russia (50% each). However, among these users only a handful in Britain (8%) ever use these sites to share their views about religion, compared with 30% for politics, 35% for sports, 36% for community issues, and 49% for music and movies. Therefore, the recent upsurge of interest among religious agencies in deploying social media for evangelistic purposes may be somewhat misplaced in the British context. In fact, only two of the 20 other countries (Japan on 1% and Germany on 7%) recorded a lower incidence of social media use for sharing religious views, with France and Lebanon equaling Britain on 8%. At the other end of the spectrum, more than half the users of social media in Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, and Turkey (with large Muslim populations) put social media to religious uses, with 32% doing so in the United States.   

Source: Telephone interviews with 1,018 Britons aged 18 and over between 19 March and 15 April 2012, conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International on behalf of the Pew Research Center and as part of the Pew Global Attitudes Project. Fieldwork was also undertaken in 20 other nations. Topline data published on 12 December in Social Networking Popular Across Globe, available at:

Religion in the armed forces

Members of the UK’s armed forces are still more inclined to claim a religious affiliation and to say they are Christian than the population as a whole, but the situation is changing fairly rapidly. On 1 April 2012 the proportion of armed forces personnel declaring no religion was 14.7%, up from 9.5% in 2007. It was lowest in the Army (11.9%) and highest in the Naval Service (20.1%), with 17.5% in the Royal Air Force. Across all three services the number of Christians declined from 89.7% in 2007 to 83.5% in 2012 (85.7% in the Army, 81.5% in the Royal Air Force, 78.9% in the Naval Service). That leaves a mere 1.9% in 2012 professing a non-Christian faith, an improvement on the 0.8% of five years earlier but still a significant underrepresentation in terms of society as a whole.

The religious affiliations of civilian personnel working for the armed forces have only been collected since 2008, and the declaration rate had still only climbed to 67.6% in 2012. Of those stating their religion in 2012, 24.1% said that they had none, very close to the English and Welsh average at the 2011 census (25.1%). The number of Christians was 70.8%, much higher than the 59.3% in the census, while non-Christians amounted to 5.1% (against 8.4% in the census). It should be remembered that the comparison with the census is not on a strict like-for-like basis since there was a non-response rate of 7.2% at the census.

Source: Ministry of Defence, United Kingdom Defence Statistics, 2012, tables 2.12 (armed forces) and 2.32 (civilian personnel, including a breakdown by pay band). Prepared by Defence Analytical Services and Advice, and published on 12 December 2012 at:


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One Response to Life After the Census

  1. Pingback: 83.5% of our UK Regular Armed Forces declare as Christian | eChurch Blog

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