Once a year we gain an insight into the ever changing British Identities and attitudes via the official publication of the British Social Attitudes report. This is an annual statistical survey conducted in Great Britain by National Centre for Social Research since 1983.
You can download the full report via this link. (Sanity warning, it runs to well over 200 pages).
Headline Item – The Decline of Religion
The Highlight from this latest British Social Attitudes report, the one that most media outlets have run with, is a continuation of an ongoing trend in the UK that they have been observing over the years, so I’m going to focus mostly on that section of the report …
The UK is becoming increasingly less religious
The majority of the population are “Nones”, they have no religious affiliation. Here is what has been happening …
It can and is argued that religion is a private matter, but a key point to understand is that it is a trend with profound implications for UK social norms as well as UK public institutions. The official head of state of the UK (the Queen) is also officially the Head of the Church of England, and the House of Lords is also populated with C of E Bishops. We now live in a nation where they do not represent the majority. Most would (correctly) view it as rather bizarre for such arrangements to be in place on the sole basis that these are all adults that think that their imaginary friend is real.
What else do we learn about the changing religious landscape?
- Most of the shift in the religious profile of the nation has been towards non-affiliation, with 52% of the public now saying they do not regard themselves as belonging to any religion.
- Of these, most were simply not brought up with a religion, with a smaller minority having lost a childhood faith.
- The number of people with no religion, who were not brought up in one, has increased from 11% in 1998 to 23% in 2018.
- Two-thirds (66%) of people in Britain never attend religious services, apart from special occasions such as weddings, funerals and baptisms.
- The proportion that report they attend at least weekly, or less often but at least monthly, has remained stable – at around 11% and 7% respectively.
- Most people show little enthusiasm for institutionalised religion, although there is evidence that the public are, in general, prepared to be tolerant of the faith of others.
Decline Religion in the UK – Some Statistics you might not know
- In Britain, church attendance has declined steadily since at least 1851
- In 1900 church membership was around 25%; it is now less than 10%.
- In 1900 more than half the age-relevant population attended Sunday schools; now it is less than 4%
- Before the Second World War, the Church of England was baptising three-quarters of the English population; the figure now is 15%
- Growth in charismatic and independent evangelical churches has not kept up with general population increase.
- Are “New Age” alternatives on the rise? Nope, less than 2% of a typical small English town engaged in activities that could generously be described as spiritual and half of the participants in yoga, meditation, and various forms of healing were primarily concerned with physical and psychological well-being
This is not a picture where people are still believing and simply not belonging, the facts don’t support that. There really is an ongoing increasing trend of not actually believing.
Why is this happening, are people dropping their faith?
Actually no. Religious decline in Britain is generational; people tend to be less religious than their parents, and on average their children are even less religious than they are. Further, as having no religion becomes more common and, one would assume, more socially acceptable, it appears that vaguely religious people who in the past would have identified as belonging to the Church of England or another group no longer do so.
Britain is becoming more secular not because adults are losing their religion but because older people with an attachment to the Church of England and other Christian denominations are gradually being replaced in the population by unaffiliated younger people.
Is this all about Intolerance Increasing?
Nope. Secularisation should not be interpreted as a growth in intolerance, indeed the reverse appears to be true. The British public do increasingly appear to have little confidence in religious institutions or faith that they are a force for good. However, a large majority maintain positive or neutral views of individuals belonging to a religion – a pattern which is even more prevalent among younger people – although also a suspicion regarding, and reluctance to indulge, extremism.
The ongoing trend is clear
Those claiming religious identity, practising a religion or believing are clearly diminishing, as a proportion of the British population and so, arguably, in influence.
What else do we learn from this Latest British Social Attitudes Report?
Rather a lot, and it is all too much to articulate here within just one posting. I will however give you a quick summary of some other things.
The Elephant in the Room – BREXIT
- Britain is more divided in its attitudes towards leaving the EU than it was before the EU referendum.
- Far more people identify strongly as a ‘Remainer’ or a ‘Leaver’ nowadays than do so as a strong supporter of a political party.
- Strong Remainers and strong Leavers have diametrically opposed views about the consequences of leaving the EU.
- 85% of ‘very strong Remainers’ think that Britain’s economy will be worse off as a result of Brexit. 71% of ‘very strong Leavers’ believe it will be better off.
- 74% of ‘very strong Remainers’ reckon that Britain will have less influence in the world as a result of leaving the EU. Only 6% of ‘very strong Leavers’ agree with them.
One good tween on this topic illustrates how data can be used and abused …
Has the UK really had enough of Experts? – Science and Technology
Support for Science is strong …
- More than three-quarters of the public (77%) agree that science and technology are making our lives healthier, easier and more comfortable.
- Over nine in ten (94%) of the public believe that medical research will improve our quality of life over the coming decades.
- However, while almost three-quarters (73%) believe that medical research benefits everyone equally, almost one fifth of the public (18%) view such research as mostly benefitting those who are better off.
Gender and Work
The introduction of Shared Parental Leave reflects the direction of long-term changes in attitudes towards gender roles.
- 40% think for a working couple with a newborn child, the mother should take most of the
paid leave and the father should take some. 34% think the parents should divide the leave equally. Support for this view has increased from 22% in 2012 and it is most popular among the youngest age group, graduates, and those with a socially liberal outlook.
- In 2012, 31% thought that the best way for a family with a child under school age to organise their life was for the mother to stay at home and the father to work full-time; just 19% think this now.
While almost everyone supports the principle of equal pay, the public is more divided about the gender pay gap.
- 89% think that it is wrong for men to be paid more than equally qualified women, working in the same job for the same company, suggesting almost universal support for the principle of equal pay.
- While the population are very keen not to be seen as personally prejudiced against transgender people, they are less clear that transphobia is always wrong.
- In 1983, fewer than one in five people said that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex were “not wrong at all”, compared with two-thirds now. This is not just a generational change: older people too have become more liberal in their views, and so have those without a religion.
Poverty and Inequality
Negative perceptions regarding the scale and acceptability of poverty and inequality have become more widespread since the period before the 2008 financial crisis.
- 65% think there is “quite a lot” of poverty in Britain. 62% believe that poverty has increased over the past decade and 61% anticipate that it will increase further in the next decade.
- The view that there is “quite a lot” of poverty has increased by 13 percentage points since 2006, while perceptions that poverty has increased over the past decade and will increase over the next have increased by 30 and 18 percentage points respectively.
- In 2016, around half (53%) thought that large differences in income are acceptable to reward talents and efforts – a decline of 11 percentage points since 2008.