Further decline in religious affiliation ‘likely’

Published 07 December 2011
Religiosity is set to decline further in Britain while liberal attitudes are expected to increase, the latest British Social Attitudes Report has predicted.

The report by the National Centre for Social Research paints a picture of weak affiliation to the church and Christianity in Britain.

Of the 3,000 Britons surveyed, 50% said they have no religion at all – up 19% from the first report in 1983.

The number of people identifying themselves as Christians has also dropped from 50% in 2008 to 42% today.

There is no change on the last survey in the numbers who affiliate themselves with the Church of England (20%).

Although the Church of England remains the largest grouping among those claiming a faith, it has also seen the most acute decline since 1983, down from 40%.

The report said: “This change[in levels of religiosity] – which is likely to continue – can be explained by generational replacement, with older, more religious, generations dying out and being replaced by less religious generations.

“There is little evidence that substantial numbers find religion as they get older.”

Whilst affiliation to Christianity has declined in the last three decades, the numbers affiliated to non-Christian religions has risen from less than one per cent in 1983 to six per cent today. The report states that the increase is largely a result of immigration.

It notes that out of those who affiliate themselves with a religion, more than half (56%) do not attend weekly services. Just 14% said they attend a service on a weekly basis.

Those who affiliate themselves with the Church of England are least likely to attend a service, with just under half (48%) saying that they never attend and less than one in ten saying they attend weekly.

Attendance was considerably higher among those with a non-Christian religious affiliation. In this category, 39% said they attend meetings at least once a week and around a fifth (21%) at least once a month.

The report found religious affiliation to be weakest among 18 to 24-year-olds, with 64% in this category saying that they had no religion. This is considerably higher than the 65-plus age group in which only 28% say they have no religion.

The report predicts that the decline in religiosity in Britain will continue long into the future.

“Britain is becoming less religious, with the numbers who affiliate with a religion or attend religious services experiencing a long-term decline,” it said.

“And this trend seems set to continue; not only as older, more religious generations are replaced by younger, less religious ones, but also as the younger generations increasingly opt not to bring up their children in a religion – a factor shown to strongly link with religious affiliation and attendance later in life.”

It said that as religious affiliation decreases, Britain can expect to see a continued increase in liberal attitudes on social issues such as abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage and euthanasia “as the influence of considerations grounded in religion declines”.

The report added that there may be an “increased reluctance … for matters of faith to enter the social and public spheres at all”.

It said: “The recently expressed sentiment of the current coalition government to ‘do’ and ‘get’ God therefore may not sit well with, and could alienate, certain sections of the population.”

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