Understanding Society, Wave 4

Wave 4 of ‘Understanding Society’, the UK Household Longitudinal Study, is now available to registered users of the UK Data Service.

Every year the study collects data on the social and economic characteristics of people living in 40,000 households across the country. In addition, the British Household Panel Survey, which began in 1991, has been integrated into the study. There is also a large booster sample of ethnic minorities. The data allow researchers to study social change over past decades and prospectively for decades to come.

The study is largely funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It is designed and managed by a group in the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex.  (To declare an interest, I am acting director of ISER as well as co-director of BRIN.)

The Wave 4 dataset is the product of interviews with nearly 70,000 adults and 9,000 children (age 10-15). It covers some new topics (for example on wellbeing, post-Olympic participation in sport, net income) and a number of areas of enquiry that have appeared previously. Respondents provided information about their religion in the first wave, and Wave 4 goes further.

The basic question on religious affiliation is posed using the filter plus follow-up wording: “Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?” [If yes] “Which religion do you regard yourself as belonging to?” The breakdown for adults in Great Britain is:

No religion                                                                              50.4
Church of England/Anglican                                              24.1
Roman Catholic                                                                       8.5
Church of Scotland                                                                  2.1
Free Church or Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland    0.2
Episcopalian                                                                             0.1
Methodist                                                                                   1.8
Baptist                                                                                        0.7
Congregational/United Reform/URC                                 0.3
Other Christian                                                                         1.9
Christian (no denomination specified)                                3.8
Muslim/Islam                                                                            2.7
Hindu                                                                                          1.1
Jewish                                                                                         0.3
Sikh                                                                                             0.5
Buddhist                                                                                     0.4
Other                                                                                            1.1

On frequency of attendance at religious services or meetings, the distribution is:

Once a week or more often                     10.8
Less often but at least once a month      6.0
Less often but at least once a year         14.2
Never or practically never                       22.2
Only at weddings, funerals etc.              46.8

Respondents were also asked “How much difference would you say religious beliefs make to your life? Would you say they make …”

a great difference                15.2
some difference                   17.5
a little difference                 18.9
no difference                       48.5

Wave 4 contained a religious practice module, but it was used for the ethnic minority boost rather than the entire sample. Respondents were asked to say whether “My religious beliefs affect … what I eat / drink (such as alcohol) / wear / my decisions related to marriage and dating / what school I would send my children to / my decisions for charitable giving and helping others / my decisions related to investment and savings / the friends I choose / the sort of job I would do.”

As expected, Muslims are considerably more religious than the majority of the population. Nearly three quarters (72%) claim to pray every day, and more than three quarters (77%) say that religious beliefs make a great difference in their lives. For most, religion has a substantial effect on what they eat, drink, and so on. Only for a minority, though, does faith affect schooling or friendship decisions. And not all self-identified Muslims are devout: one in eight (12%) pray less than weekly.

This descriptive summary provides only a hint of the work to come. The longitudinal and household nature of the survey mean that scholars will be able to analyse change in the religious involvement of individual respondents, the way that religiosity is linked to family, and so on.


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

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