Twixtmas News


Hopefully, BRIN readers have had a good rest over Christmas. In case any of you ‘switched off’ from the religious statistical news during the festivities, here is a round-up of seven stories which made headlines between 24 and 29 December 2014. This will definitely be our last news post of 2014, but we will naturally be back in 2015. A Happy New Year to you all! 

Belief in the Christmas story

Although 65% of 2,087 adult Britons interviewed online by YouGov on 16-17 December 2014 believed that Jesus Christ really existed, and no more than 18% disbelieved, only minorities accepted four key elements in the nativity story (as summarized in the table, below). Not unexpectedly, the proportions believing in the biblical account of Christ’s birth were considerably higher among those who acknowledged His existence as an historical figure than those who rejected it (four-fifths or more of the latter dismissing each of the four components of the story). Belief was also greatest among women and the over-60s. There was most scepticism about the Virgin Birth, which even 63% of believers in Jesus either disbelieved or were unsure about. This is a feature which has distinguished polling on religious beliefs since the first scientific study by Mass-Observation in Hammersmith in 1944-45. The YouGov data tables were published on 24 December 2014 and can be accessed from a link embedded in a brief blog post on the Christmas story at: 

% across



Don’t know

Newborn Jesus laid in a manger




Wise men guided by a star brought Jesus gifts




Angel appeared to shepherds to announce birth of Jesus




Jesus was born to a virgin




Christmas Day working

An Office for National Statistics press release on 24 December 2014 revealed that 863,000 people, equivalent to 2.9% of the total UK workforce, worked on Christmas Day in 2012 (the last year for which data are currently available), ranging from 2.1% in London to 3.6% in the North-East. Clergy headed the list in terms of the proportion at work on Christmas Day (49%), followed by communication operators (28%), paramedics (25%), prison officers (25%), and farm workers (20%). However, measured in actual numbers at work on Christmas Day, clergy were only sixth in the league table, with 26,000 on duty, compared with 136,000 care workers and 120,000 nurses or nursing auxiliaries. Data derive from the Labour Force Survey. The press release (which incorporates a link to the full data in Excel format) is at:

Christmas carol ‘top of the pops’

As in previous years, Classic FM radio invited its listeners (not representative of the adult population, of course) to vote online for their favourite Christmas carol from 1 December 2014 onwards, ‘tens of thousands’ doing so. The results of the poll were officially announced in ‘The Nation’s Favourite Carols’, broadcast on Christmas Day, with the top five also listed in several newspapers on 22 December. For the first time since 2002, Silent Night was the most popular carol, displacing O Holy Night, which had headed the chart for 11 years in succession. The change may doubtless be attributed in large measure to the centenary of the Christmas truce in 1914, which was reportedly inaugurated by German troops singing Stille Nacht (the original German-language version) from their trenches. The top 10 carols are shown below, while the top 30 appear on Classic FM’s website at:

  1. Silent Night
  2. O Holy Night
  3. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  4. In the Bleak Midwinter (Holst version)
  5. O Come All Ye Faithful
  6. In the Bleak Midwinter (Harold Darke version)
  7. Once in Royal David’s City
  8. O Little Town of Bethlehem
  9. Away in a Manger
  10. Joy to the World

Alcohol and religion

An online poll by ComRes on 12-14 December 2014, commissioned by brewer AB InBev and published on 29 December, has revealed some modest differences in alcohol consumption among the various faith groups (some of which will be accounted for by demographic effects). As the table below shows, among the sample of 2,061 adults aged 18 and over, those professing no religion were more likely than average to drink alcohol and least likely to be giving it up or reducing their intake in January. Christians were just one point behind as alcohol drinkers, with non-Christians well below the norm for alcohol consumption, albeit they registered the largest proportion expecting to give it up or reduce their intake in January. Data tables are at: 


Ever drink alcohol

Expect to reduce/give up alcohol in January

All Britons









No religion



Obesity and religion

Did any BRIN readers notice headlines in the online media over Christmas such as ‘Holy Roast! Religious Brits More Likely to Be Overweight than Atheists’? The source of the story turns out to be an article in the online first edition of Journal of Religion and Health by Deborah Lycett: ‘The Association of Religious Affiliation and Body Mass Index (BMI): An Analysis from the Health Survey for England’. Examining data for 7,414 adults aged 16 and over interviewed (and measured) for the 2012 Health Survey for England, she discovered that religious affiliation was associated with an unadjusted 0.91 kilograms per square metre higher mean BMI, the association being strongest among professing Christians. Although some of the higher BMI was explained demographically, it was not accounted for by smoking status, alcohol consumption, or physical activity level. Even after all adjustments had been made on the linear regression models, affiliates of a religion still had an 0.58 kilograms per square metre higher mean BMI than the irreligious, with Protestants greater than Catholics. A significantly higher waist-to-hip ratio was also seen in Christian and Sikh men. The author observes that: ‘As the study reported here is cross-sectional, it cannot provide any suggestion of whether religion or higher BMI comes first and as such cannot be used to determine cause and effect, but it provides sufficient evidence for further exploration’. Options for accessing the article are outlined at:

First-time voters

It is only about four months to go now before the next UK general election (it is scheduled for 7 May 2015), and already the opinion polling machine is cranking up for it. It is expected to be a hard-fought contest, and the electoral choices of first-time voters (those currently aged 17-22, who were not old enough to vote in the 2010 election) are likely to be critical in determining the outcome. Opinium Research, in partnership with The Observer, polled 503 of these first-time voters online on 18-22 December 2014, with extensive data tables of results made available on 27 December at:

One thing is pretty clear from the survey: religious influences seem to hold little sway over this first-time voter generation and therefore, by implication, are unlikely to be a significant factor in affecting how they will cast their votes. Just 11% strongly agreed that they are religious, with a further 18% somewhat agreeing, while a majority (56%) disagreed (the remaining 14% being neutral). In a throwback to last year’s debate about whether Britain is or should be a Christian country, merely 10% identified being a Christian as an essential feature of a nation being considered as a democracy, the remaining 90% stating it was an unimportant characteristic. Shown a list of famous people, no more than 10% recalled the Archbishop of Canterbury (Justin Welby) discussing politics and current affairs, and under one-quarter of this minority actually agreed with what he said. As if to illustrate the point, first-time voters held socially liberal views on several of the issues on which the Churches have been seen by some as dragging their feet (by upholding ‘traditional’ morality), with, for example, 77% of first-time voters supportive of the legalization of same-sex marriage, and 78% finding nothing wrong in sex outside marriage.    

Moral leadership

Speaking of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he has not had the best of Christmases. First, he was struck down with pneumonia, having to ‘deliver’ his Christmas Day sermon online, and then he was given a relatively modest rating for moral leadership in a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times, for which 2,109 Britons were interviewed online on 18-19 December 2014. Panellists were presented with a list of famous names and asked to choose three or four who provided the best moral leadership. Archbishop Welby was placed fourth, with 15%, after Her Majesty the Queen (34%), the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (30%), and Malala Yousafzai (the Nobel Peace Laureate, 19%). Prime Minister David Cameron came fifth (8%) and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, fifteenth (5%), the same as Labour leader Ed Miliband but behind actress Judi Dench and former footballer David Beckham, among others. Data tables are not yet online (hopefully, they will be in the New Year), but an article about the survey was published on the front page of the main section of the newspaper on 28 December 2014 (only available online to subscribers).


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

This entry was posted in Official data, People news, Religion and Politics, Religion in the Press, Religious beliefs, Survey news and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.