Religion continues to decline in the UK

Religion continues to decline in the UK December 18, 2009

Quick post tonight, with news from the British Social Attitudes Survey. The 26th report is due out in January, but they’ve slipped out a yuletide press release on religion.

The press release points out that religious belief has dropped sharply, and that Britain is much less religious than the USA. No surprises there! You can a quick heads up from Irish Sun. The NSS has some interesting figures on differences in social attitudes (homosexuality, euthanasia, etc).

But in this post I wanted to pull out some interesting facts in the survey not reported in the press release (you can browse the full report at the publishers website).

First off, some interesting data on the ‘fuzzy’ middle ground. Everyone always talks about the religious and the non-religious, but David Voas (who wrote the report and who also was a presenter at the NSRN conference last week) points out that many people don’t fit into either category.

The idea is that religious people are those who believe, identify with a religion, and go to services at least occasionally. The non-religious are people who don’t believe and never attend. And the ‘fuzzy’ group is everyone else (they either identify, believe, or occasionally attend – but not all three). Here’s the data for the UK and USA:

The ‘fuzzy middle’ is quite large in the USA. The main difference versus the UK is decline of religious at the expense of the non-religious. Presumably what’s happening here is that the ‘fuzzy’ middle is a group that people transition through on their way to being non-religious.

Some other data from the report:








I find the last line really amazing! Here’s just one more, to show how the decline of religion is spread among denominations:

Lastly, it turns out that although the level of belief is very different in the USA and UK, attitudes to religion seem to be pretty similar in the two countries:

  • The majority of people in both countries are keen to maintain a separation of religion and state. For example two thirds (67% in Britain and 66% in the US) think religious leaders should not try to influence government decision-making.
  • Nearly three quarters (73%) of people in Britain and two thirds (66%) of Americans think people with strong religious beliefs are often too intolerant of others.

Now, that’s a surprising result, given the findings of another recent study – but that will have to wait till the next blog post!

Creative Commons License This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

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