Majority of UK population have no religious belief

The UK’s National Center for Social Research have just issued a press release with the latest numbers on 7th September. These numbers reflect data gathered in 2017. As data is processed they tend to dribble out insights and so this latest press release is part of that process.

What are the latest highlights?

Well yes, I guess the graphic and also the article title is a spoiler, but there are some quite interesting details as well.

  • In 2002 the number of Brits who identified as “Church of England” was 31% … it is now 14% – that’s a huge decline.
  • The sharpest decline happened among 45 to 54 year olds (35% in 2002 vs 11% in 2017)

As you can see from the picture above produced by Humanists UK, the population numbers across any and all belief breaks down as follows …

  • Catholic – 8%
  • C of E – 14%
  • Other Christian – 18%
  • Some other faith (Non-Christian) – 8%

To help you with the maths … that all adds up to 48% in total.

So the really big highlight is that 52% of the population identified as “Not Religious”. For comparison, in 2002 that number was only 41%.

Clearly a huge social change is happening right now.

The Age Factor

One other observation that this all reveals is that this trend will continue.


Well basically because of this …

  • 70% of 18-24 year olds selected “No Religion” – In 2002 that number was only 56%
  • In the over 65 age group as many as 30% identify as Church of England – In 2002 it was as many as 51%

Of those that believe, How many practise their belief?

Another strong signal that points towards this decline is a measure of those that attend religious services.

  • Only 21% of those that ticked “Church of England” actually attend church services, the other 79% don’t
  • Only 48% of those that ticked “Catholic” actually attend church services, the other 52% don’t

What does this mean?

Well, the question asked was “Do you attend church services more than once a month?”

Are these people who have a faith that is faltering or is something else going on? Personally I suspect that when asked on a survey to tick a box, some people are associating with their cultural heritage when they tick “Catholic” or “Church of England”, and don’t tick it to indicate that this is what they actually believe. The lack of participation is perhaps a strong signal that many of those that tick such boxes are not actually religious at all. Yes, I’m speculating, but I think I’m being reasonable to consider this as the most probable explanation.

You might also wonder why the number of those that associate with “Catholic” and also practise is so high. This is perhaps belief driven. Within Catholicism, not attending Mass on a regular basis is deemed to be a mortal sin. In other words, if you do actually believe and you are also Catholic, then your belief will motivate you to make the effort. To put that another way, if it is not mandatory (as in the Church of England), then 79% don’t bother going. If however it is a mandatory part of the belief, then 52% don’t go because they probably don’t believe … or to put that another way, perhaps about 25% of those that don’t go to their local C of E do actually believe, they would simply prefer to sleep in on a Sunday.

Separate Numbers for Scotland

They have separate, similar, but even higher numbers for Scotland.

  • 56% of people in Scotland identify with “No religion” … and that bumps up to 73% for the 18-24 age group.


Roger Harding, Head of Public Attitudes at the National Centre for Social Research, said:

“Our figures show an unrelenting decline in Church of England and Church of Scotland numbers. This is especially true for young people where less than 1 in 20 now belong to their established church. While the figures are starkest among younger people, in every age group the biggest single group are those identifying with no religion.

“We know from the British Social Attitudes survey that people’s views are becoming more socially liberal on issues like same sex relationships and abortion. With growing numbers belonging to no religion, faith leaders will no doubt be considering how to better connect to a changing society.”

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented,

‘With just 2 percent of young adults now saying they belong to the Church of England, it is simply untenable that the Church continues to run a quarter of all our state schools, that Christian worship is enforced in all the other state schools, and that the Church continues to have other privileges of establishment, including 26 bishops sitting as of right in the House of Lords.

‘These figures must surely act as an urgent wake-up call for the need to have a renewed conversation about the place of religion or belief in British public life, so that a new settlement can be forged that is more equitable for all and is better able to serve future generations.’


In the US you have an essentially secular republic, yet you also have a highly religious population.

Meanwhile, here in the UK where the head of State (the Queen) is also the official head of the Church of England, and the House of Lords is stuffed full of 26 Church of England clerics whose duty is to meddle in lawmaking, we have a clear majority of the population that are not actually religious at all.

Growing up

My own personal experience of growing up is one where my father would take me to religious services every Sunday (Methodist). What was obvious to me is that he was not deeply religious and yet he did still attend with me on a regular basis. That perhaps was driven by an emotional bond; his father was the minister.

Times are clearly changing and there is an ongoing shift away from formal belief. The vastly larger numbers of non-religious amongst the younger generation more or less guarantee that this trend will continue and will be driven, not by people changing their minds about what they believe, but rather by the older more religious generation passing away and being replaced by a far less religious generation.

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