New Insights: 53% of Britons are non-religious

The results of the latest British Social Attitudes survey have now been published, and as might perhaps be anticipated, the number of non-religious people has continued its upward trend.

Where can I find the precise details?

  • Press Release for the latest survey is here 
  • A PDF containing the full survey results can be found here. [Be warned, it is over 200 pages in length, there is a lot of detail here]

What are the Highlights?

The full reports covers a vast array of topics. From this we learn …

A More generous state is desired …

  • More people (48%) say they want higher taxes to pay for more spending on health
  • More people (42%) say that government should redistribute income from the better-off to those who are less well-off than disagree (28%)
  • Eight in ten (83%) support government financing projects to create new jobs, up from seven in ten (72%) in 2006.
  • Eight in ten think government should spend more or much more on health (83%), seven in ten on education (71%), six in ten on the police (57%)

Strong views on law and Order …

  • Detention without trial: At a time of a suspected terrorist attack, more than half the population (53%) would support detaining people indefinitely without putting them on trial. The law currently restricts this to 14 days.
  • Stop and search: Seven in ten (70%) believe authorities should have the right to stop and search people at random if a terrorist attack is suspected. Currently a police officer can only stop and search without “reasonable grounds” if a senior police officer has authorised it in advance.
  • 80% think the government should have the right to keep people under video surveillance in public areas, while 50% think they should have the right to monitor emails and other information exchanged on the Internet.
  • Obey the law: The proportion who say that it is acceptable not to obey a law, even if that particular law is wrong, has declined from a high point of 37% in 1991 to only 24%.
  • Defence spending: Four in ten (39%) back more defence spending, more people than at any time during the past 30 years. Only two in ten (20%) want to see it cut.

More personal freedom …

Sexual liberalisation continues:

  • Sex before marriage: Three quarters (75%) now say sex before marriage is “not wrong at all”. This stood at under two thirds (64%) in 2012. 73% of Anglicans agree that sex before marriage is not at all wrong, up from 54% only four years earlier and around double the proportion who said this in 1985.
  • Same-sex relationships: Attitudes towards same-sex relationships have become significantly more liberal with 64% of people now saying that they are “not wrong at all”, up from 59% in 2015, and 47% in 2012. Over half (55%) of Anglicans say same-sex relationships are “not wrong at all”, up from 31% only four years previously.
  • Adult films: 45% of people believe adults should be able to watch whatever films they like, however violent or pornographic, up from 32% of people in 1996.  There remains, however a big gender and age divide on this issue, with six in ten (58%) of men and young people (60%) saying adults should be able to watch any film they choose, compared with three in ten women (32%) and two in ten (20%) over 75.

A right to choose:

  • Abortion: More people than ever say an abortion should be allowed if a woman decides on her own she does not want the child (70%) or if a couple cannot afford any more children (65%). Most remarkably perhaps the proportion of Catholics who agree an abortion should be allowed if a women does not want the child jumped from 33% in 1985 to 61% in 2016.
  • Euthanasia: 77% of people feel a person with a painful incurable disease should be able to legally request that a doctor end their life. Around eight in ten have backed euthanasia under these circumstances throughout the past 30 years.

Obviously they also explored the hot topics: Brexit and immigration …

(These results surprised me a bit, but I suspect it reflect the observation that the data was gathered between July and Nov last year and that even in the short period since then, views may have changed considerably)

  • More Eurosceptic than ever: In the immediate aftermath of the Referendum the public has become more sceptical about the EU than ever before. Three in four (75%) feel that Britain should either leave the EU or that if it stays the EU’s powers should be reduced, up from 65% in 2015. Only one in five favoured the status quo or EU expansion.
  • A widening social divide: Views on immigration have become more polarised. The young and highly educated are more likely than ever to believe that immigration is good for the economy, while older people and non-graduates are more likely to say immigration is bad for the economy.
  • Choosier about immigrants:  Two thirds of people (65%) believe all migrants to the UK should speak English, have good educational qualifications and work skills needed in Britain, compared with half of people (49%) in 2002.

Data Gathering

It is worth understanding a few things here. There are some questions that should perhaps be asked.

When exactly was the survey conducted?

Interviewing was carried out between 13 July and 30 November 2016

How was it carried out?

This 34th British Social Attitudes survey consisted of 2,942 interviews with a representative, random sample of adults in Britain with a response rate of 46%. Addresses are randomly selected and visited by one of NatCen Social Research’s interviewers. After selecting one adult at the address (again at random), the interviewer carries out an hour long interview.

Who financed this Survey?

The survey is funded by a range of charitable and government sources, which change from year to year. Questions in the 2016 survey were funded by the following: the Department for Work and Pensions, The Government Equalities Office, the Department for Transport, the Department for Education, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, The King’s Fund, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The National Housing Federation, The Trade Union Congress, the UK Statistics Authority and the Economic and the Social Research Council (ESRC).

The Religious Statistics

The headline I utilised highlighted the latest religious statistics. Interestingly enough that is all buried way at the end within an appendix.

Of specific note is the observation on page 86 that “People who have a religion are less likely to hold liberal views than those with no religion“, hence the rising non-religious demographic perhaps explains the rise of more liberal views.

In a similar vein, there is this note on page 99 “Anti-transgender prejudice is also linked to religious belief; people without a religion (59%) are more likely to think prejudice against transgender people is always wrong than those with a religion (46%).

So what are the precise religious numbers for those interviewed?

We find the details on page 197 …(yes, you need to read that far to find it) …

If you are wondering, then to complete that to 100% they found that in addition to the above, 17% were “Christian Other” and another 6% were “Other” (Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism and others).

Dig a bit further and you will also find data that confirms that this trend will continue. This is because it is the older generation that retains a religious identity and so the younger generation is far less religious.

Meanwhile in Scotland

The degree of non-belief is even higher …

Scots with no religion at record level

01 July 2017

The proportion of people in Scotland who describe themselves as having no religion at all has reached its highest ever level, according to ScotCen’s latest Scottish Social Attitudes survey.

The new findings from Scotland’s most authoritative survey of public attitudes show that nearly six in ten (58%) now say that they have no religion, up 18 points on 1999 when the figure stood at four in ten (40%).

Young least religious

Young people are least likely to be religious; three quarters of young people (74% of 18-34s) say they have no religion compared with 34% of those over 65.

There has been a fall in religious identity across all age groups, however it has been slowest among those over 65. There has been an 11 percentage point increase in the proportion of over 65s who say they have no religion between 1999 and 2016 (from 23% to 34%) but in comparison the increase among those aged 50-64 has been 24 percentage points (from 33% to 57%).

Church of Scotland losing faithful

Most of the decline in religious affiliation over this 17 year period has been felt by the Church of Scotland. Around half as many people (18%) now say they belong to the Church of Scotland as did in 1999 (35%).

The proportion of Roman Catholics (10%), other Christian affiliations (11%) and non-Christian religious people (2%) in the Scottish population has remained relatively stable over the same period.

Ian Montagu, Researcher at ScotCen said “The decline in religious identity in Scotland has been most keenly felt by the Kirk as fewer and fewer people choose to describe themselves as Church of Scotland by default. As each generation coming through is consistently less religious than the last, it is hard to imagine this trend coming to a halt in the near future. However, if the Kirk is able to push through liberalising measures such as allowing ministers to oversee same-sex marriage ceremonies, it is possible that its appeal may broaden somewhat to younger, more socially liberal Scots.”

Bottom Line

The UK is clearly no longer a nation of Christians, it is non-belief that now dominates.

Oddly enough the official head of state, the Queen, is also head of the Church of England. Almost one third of our schools are religious in nature to one degree or another, and we also still have 26 clerics sitting in the House Of Lords. One can only wonder if any of this will ever change to reflect the new social reality.

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