New Poll Shows That 38% of British Youth Don’t Believe in a God

An astonishing new poll from YouGov shows that British youth (ages 18-24) are rejecting religion at levels we’ve never seen before:

When asked if they believe in God, only 25% say they do. 19% believe in some non-Godlike “spiritual greater power” and a further 38% believe in no God or spiritual power whatsoever.

Only a quarter of British youth believe in a God! That’s an incredibly low number, and it’s only slightly higher than the percentage of youth who are “spiritual but not religious.”

Even more striking:

The reputation of religion amongst young people is actually more negative than neutral: 41% agree that “religion is more often the cause of evil in the world” and only 14% say it is a cause for good.

And finally, when it comes to which people have the largest influence on their lives, religious leaders came in dead last:

If these results don’t mark a death knell for the Christian church in Britain, I don’t know what does.

The Rationalist Association puts these numbers in context:

Taken alongside larger surveys, including the 2011 Census, which found that 25 per cent have no religion, and the annual Social Attitudes Survey, which in 2011 found that half of Britons are non-religious, the YouGov poll suggests that secularisation is continuing at pace in the UK.

[The survey] does suggest that, for a significant proportion of young people in Britain, “non-religious” does essentially amount to atheist.

I think I can safely say: American atheists are jealous.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • MD

    And to think religion classes are mandatory in the English National Curriculum!

  • Art_Vandelay

    I’m sorry, but how does a person not know what they believe?

  • The Other Weirdo

    Isn’t the more significant number the 25% that still believe? That means that 75% are either outright non-believers or are sitting on the fence. However, I am not an analyzer of statistical analysis.

  • Eli

    They could be at a point of questioning their beliefs. Not everyone who’s changed their beliefs has an immediate, split-second change from one thing to another, and plenty more think about it without changing. And some just don’t think much about it because it doesn’t matter to them one way or the other.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Please tell me it was not an Internet survey.

  • VCP

    Actually, that explains it pretty well.

  • Keyra

    The UK is gaining more hope after all

  • Patrick
  • Patrick

    You Gov are one of the main professional polling organisations in the UK.
    It won’t be an “internet survey” free for all.

  • MD

    My kids’ previous school took am ecumenical approach, more like world religions. They are in an English school outside the UK now and the curriculum is bringing in more and more Catholicism for RE, using the whole “we are in a catholic community” excuse. Luckily, half the teachers drop RE halfway through the year, there are better things to teach.

  • Steve UK

    It’s OK to celebrate these statistics but unfortunately, religion still has a strong grasp on our society, Islam and Judaism has obviously not been taken into account,
    secularism still ha a battle on its hands to kick religion out of the political sphere, especially in the unelected House of Lords where 26 Anglican bishops can pass laws that affect everybody, democracy in action!

  • Steve UK

    Need to proofread…………again!

  • Art_Vandelay

    Well you might not think about unicorns either but isn’t the default position to suspend belief in something until you’ve actually come to the conclusion that it exists?

  • Eli

    Sure, of course, but when you’re talking about questioning a belief that was/is hugely important to you or your community, it can be hard to be that completely rational about it. That itself takes time to figure out and get used to. If people always did what was rational or logical, none of this would even be an issue in the first place.

  • Dave

    It says in the YouGov report that 4% of the people polled said they were Muslim and 1% said they were Jewish.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Bitten by rationality again.

  • Rose

    Technically religous education is mandatory but not part of the National Curriculum. Religious education was the only mandatory subject before the National Curriculum existed.

  • Gary

    I suspect that many people interpreted the question as, “Is there a God?”.

  • cryofly

    Unfortunately all schools in UK have some form of religion in their curriculum, as if it is history or science or any other regular subject to be studied. Once that is shut down, the fantasy of god will be lost as well… perhaps.

  • David Mock

    I think I’m going to move to England or Czech Republic or France or Sweden or Australia.

  • Guesta

    They were actually one of my favourite parts of school; we weren’t preached at, we were encouraged to debate issues and think about them for ourselves. I actually found RS much more interesting than science classes, at that point. You don’t just get taught about Christianity, we covered Islam as well, and many other religions. I think it’s good for children to know something about religion; it’s still a driving force behind a lot of human behaviour worldwide. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll grow up religious.

  • Albert Square

    I’m surprised the amount of people who believe in God is still so high.
    My experience of life in Britain is that theists are rare, but maybe that’s because there’s a taboo against talking about religion with strangers (it isn’t considered polite) and so I’ve met them without knowing it.

  • Andy

    Second paragraph:
    “The Education Reform Act 1988 requires that all state students be taught a Basic Curriculum of Religious Education and the National Curriculum.”

  • Noah Smith

    Its religious education which is the cause of the increasing atheism

  • Noah Smith

    You’re right, religion in the U.K. is seen as a private matter and even then you’re still regarded as a bit odd. I was the only christian kid at my school of a 1000 and this was in the 70s/80s. But to give British christians their due, they do spend most of their time helping the poor and campaigning for social justice rather than trying to ban abortions and banging on about religious freedom. Most evangelicals ( a small percentage) are economically and politically socialist though still culturally conservative.

  • Jon Tayler

    I’ve only recently finished education in the UK and must say I haven’t found this to be the case. Despite attending a catholic college I never had religion forced down my throat or taught to me. The worst I had to endure was ‘Spiritual Journey’; a poorly watered down philosophy lesson. Even my primary school made a point of say that prayer in school assemblies was optional (though maybe I was fortunate there).

  • Anon

    And this is why I’m glad I live where I live. I’m happy to be part of that 38%.

    I actually took Religious Studies as a GCSE. Passed it with an A as well. In my entire class there were two people who were actually Christian. The rest were either taking it because they thought it would be easy or because, like me, they just enjoyed arguing.

    I grew up in a town where there were seven churches (one of which was converted into a Mosque with no fuss whatsoever) but nobody ever batted an eye when I said I was an atheist or expected me to go to church. Where we had prayers in assembly at primary school but the biblical creation story wasn’t taught outside of RE and even then it was acknowledged as a myth and nobody raised a fuss. We learnt about Christianity but we also learnt about Islam, Judaism and other religions all in the same sort of context.
    Anybody who talked about religion as much as some of the teenagers I see in stories on here would probably have been side-eyed a lot by people.

  • sailor

    Exactly, as a kid I was forced to go to very boring church services at least weekly and sometimes daily, depending on the school (these were private schools in USA parlance). I quickly learned it was all a big crock of bullshit, it put me firmly on the path to atheism. And there was no need to “come out” because no one gave a hoot.

  • Robster

    It won’t be long before a christian group of some sort rolls out a press release stating that the news is somehow good. They’ll do this with a symphony of lies, big and little ones that mean nothing. These sadly deluded types have a real talent making the truth meet their needs without it actually meeting their needs. Lying is the only weapon they have.

  • Tim

    the most positive spin you can put on the “don’t knows” is that they are truely post-theists. The don’t even see god as a concept worth thinking about.
    I suspect that is a healthier state of mind than mine (atheist)

  • Psychotic Atheist

    Why is it unfortunate to teach facts about religions? What’s unfortunate is the requirement for weekly acts of worship and the huge numbers of faith schools.

  • Psychotic Atheist

    The same works inside the UK. I went to school in a CofE predominated culture, so most of our RE was focussed on that. But far from all of it, we still learned about Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism and Buddhism (maybe others, but it was long time ago now).
    It makes sense to teach kids about the religions they are most likely to encounter and deal with on a regular basis, as long as they are teaching secular facts about the religion rather than requiring students to accepts points of dogma, I don’t see a problem.

  • DavidMHart

    I prefer the term ‘apatheist’ – someone who doesn’t care whether or not a god or gods exist.

  • SeekerLancer

    Come to think of it I have a lot of British friends online. I haven’t met any of them on atheist websites, but they’re all atheists.

  • MD

    It depends on the school, I think. My kids’ current school spent weeks on the Genesis creation story, and the next tern was about how st. Francis teaches us to care for the world.
    Nothing about other religions. At one point the kids piped up that they had a Muslim classmate, what does his religion teach?

  • brianz72

    I’d like to believe these poll numbers, but I don’t. Seems like some sort of sampling flaw took place. It seems too good to be true.

  • Randay

    Living in France, I can tell you that it is good. The only problem is that if you are not from a EU country, it can be hard or even harder to get a residency and work permit. If you have money to invest or get married to a French woman or man, it is much easier. Gay marriage is now the law in France.

    In a reputedly Catholic country, only 40% describe themselves as such and only 5% go to church regularly. Religion is not a current topic of discussion. The current president Hollande had several children with his ex-companion, the previous losing socialist candidate, they were never married and now he has a new lady. Nobody cares. He is unpopular at the moment because as with Obama he didn’t carry out the economic reforms promised and has caved to the banks and financial sector.

  • Noah Smith

    the polling is correct, no one cares in UK (apart from N.I.) and the same is true of the rest of europe. that’s what established church + paid holidays/sick leave + socialised healthcare gets you. Its america that’s the outlier not us

  • Michael Harrison

    I once heard a friend of mine say that art movements cycle between interpreting religious iconography as being spiritually moving, and being beautiful for its own sake. I have heard a historian say about the same for religion in America. We should not get ahead of ourselves.