Religion and the British Social Attitudes 2016 Survey

The British Social Attitudes (BSA) 2016 survey dataset has been released via the UKDS. This post updates the long-term religious data available from the BSA surveys.

Figure 1 charts the data on affiliation for the period 1983-2016. Key features include the long-term decline in the proportion identifying as Anglican (which stood at 40% in 1983 and had declined to 15% in 2016), increased identification with non-Christian faiths over recent decades (3% in 1983, 6% in 2016), broad stability in levels of Catholic affiliation (10% in 1983, 9% in 2016), and the increase in the proportion with no affiliation (32% in 1983 and 53% in 2016). The proportion of other Christians has also increased over time, from 15% in 1983 to 17% in 2016. However, the composition of this group has shifted. The proportion identifying as non-denominational Christians has risen over time, with a decreasing share professing a denominational affiliation – in particular, with the Nonconformist churches.

Figure 1: Religious affiliation in Britain, 1983-2016

Source: Author’s analysis of BSA surveys.


Figure 2 shows levels of religious attendance between 1983 and 2016. Attendance has been divided into three categories: attending once a month or more often (or frequent attendance); attending less often (infrequent attendance); not attending. The proportion reporting that they never attend religious services (beyond going for the traditional rites of passage – baptisms, marriages and funerals) increased from 56% in 1983 to 66% in 2016. There has been some decline in the levels of frequent and infrequent attending: attending once a month or more fell from 21% in 1983 to 18% in 2016. The proportion attending on an infrequent basis declined from 23% in 1983 to 16% in 2016.


Figure 2: Religious Attendance in Britain, 1983-2016

Source: Author’s analysis of BSA surveys.


Looking at patterns of attendance in more detail, Figure 3 charts, over time, the proportions of Anglicans, Catholics and other Christians attending church on a frequent basis. Clearly, Catholics and other Christian have consistently reported higher levels of regular churchgoing compared to Anglicans. In 1983, 55% of Catholics and 47% of other Christian reported attending church frequently. In 2016, the proportions had fallen to 43% of Catholics and 38% of other Christians. Anglicans actually show something of an increase in regular attendance, based on the full duration of the BSA data. It stood at 18% in 1983 and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, increased to 24% in 2016 (the highest proportion recorded by the BSA), having previously stood at 18% in both 2014 and 2015. Overall, though, those belonging to non-Christian religions show the highest level of regular attendance at services. In nearly all recent surveys, a majority of this group has reported attending on a frequent basis (51% in 2016).


Figure 3: Regular attendance at religious services by Christian tradition, 1983-2016

Source: Author’s analysis of BSA surveys.


Table 1 provides a summary of religious data from the BSA surveys. The data on religion of upbringing show that the proportion saying they were raised within the Church of England has fallen from 55% in 1991 (when the question was first asked) to 28% in 2016. The proportion saying they were raised within a Catholic household was 14% in both years. The proportion raised within some other Christian tradition increased from 22% to 27%. The proportion raised within a non-Christian religion stood at 3% in 1991 and 6% in 2016. The proportion without a religious upbringing was 6% in 1991 and 25% in 2016.


Table 1: Summary of religion indicators

Affiliation 1983 (%) 2016 (%)
Church of England 40 15
Roman Catholic 10 9
Other Christian 15 17
Other religion 3 6
No religious affiliation 32 53
Religion of upbringing 1991 (%) 2016 (%)
Church of England 55 28
Roman Catholic 14 14
Other Christian 22 27
Other religion 3 6
No religion 6 25
Attendance 1983 (%) 2016 (%)
Once a month or more often 21 18
Less often than once a month 23 16
Never attends 56 66

Source: Author’s analysis of BSA 1983, 1991 and 2016 surveys.


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