British Social Attitudes Report of 2018

The British Social Attitudes report 2018 finds a rise in ‘confident atheism’ in Britain and a ‘dramatic decline’ in identification with Christian denominations, particularly the Church of England; a substantial increase in atheism and in self-description as ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ non-religious; and very low confidence in religious organisations, but tolerance of religious difference’. Written by David Voas, Professor of Social Science at University College London, the report concludes that the process of secularisation continues unabated because older people with a church affiliation are being replaced by unaffiliated younger people. ‘The biggest change is the increase in the number of people who are confident atheists: from 10% in 1998 to 18% in 2008 and then 26% in 2018.’ The report finds ‘little support’ for the argument that religious sentiment is expressed in new forms of spirituality.

Abby Day, Professor of Race, Faith and Culture, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London:

‘The latest British Social Attitudes survey reveals no surprises: mainstream Christianity is declining, other religions are increasing and young people are less religious than ever. But understanding what it all means depends on who you ask. The field of the study of religion is divided, although unequally.  There are a few sociologists who like clean numbers and big surveys who will tell us it’s pretty well over, while most other scholars of religion prefer to dig down and find, usually in small scale studies, the really interesting material like: some atheists believe in ghosts; people who claim they are Christian but don’t attend church are more racist than those who do; women aren’t really more religious than men, but some men continue to say they are, and so on. Religion is hard to define and therefore not everyone will agree on how it is measured.’

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church, University of Oxford:

‘The mainstream Churches are not going to endear themselves to the young while they persist in resisting the logic of love, which in wider society has led to the acceptance of LGBT people and their relationships as simply and unproblematically part of the glorious diversity of the human race.  It is the credibility gap on love that makes mainstream Christianity unconvincing to the mainstream.’

Andrew Copson, Humanists UK Chief Executive:

‘For the third year in a row, the British Social Attitudes Survey – the gold standard in reliable data on our society – has shown a majority of Brits are non-religious. With these trends set to continue, policy-makers in every field from education, to constitutional law, to health and social care need to wake up to such dramatic social changes, particularly the rise of the non-religious and the decline of Christianity.’

Rev Canon Dave Male, Church of England’s Director of Evangelism and Discipleship:

‘Times have changed and for many people ticking a box marked ‘Church of England’ or ‘Anglican’ is now an active choice and no longer an automatic response. In spite of this, the Church of England remains at the heart of communities with millions of people reached in their daily lives through our ministry and our message of the Good News of the gospel. Christmas attendance at Church of England services is at its highest level for more than a decade and the numbers attending church regularly rose in 2017. More than 33,000 social action projects are run or supported by Church of England churches including food banks, parent and toddler groups, holiday and lunch clubs. We are living in an era of rapid social change – but people are still searching for meaning and answers to life.’

Katie Harrison, Director, ComRes Faith Research Centre

‘The report’s findings show that our religious landscape is changing rapidly and becoming more fluid. While more than half of adults in Britain do not identify with any religion, most say they believe in some kind of life after death. British people are far less likely now to identity as Christian out of habit or a sense of duty, as we might have expected from previous generations. In research projects at ComRes, we sometimes find that people do not want or need a name for their worldview, whether or not they believe in something.  The rise in what NatCen calls ‘confident atheism’ is very important, and indicates a significant change. At the same time, in other parts of the world, we see substantial growth in numbers of Muslims and Christians, so a challenge for British businesses and organisations operating globally will be to engage appropriately with customers, suppliers and colleagues in cultures where religion is much more present in daily life.’

Dr Keith Kahn-Harris, sociologist and senior lecturer at Leo Baeck College, the UK’s progressive Jewish rabbinic seminary;

‘These baseline figures replicate findings from other studies and surveys, but they are not the whole story. Mainstream religious denominations such as the Church of England are in long-term decline within Christianity and some Jewish denominations such as the United Synagogue are showing a similar pattern. Alongside this, many ’stricter’ denominations and congregations are growing. In the Jewish case we are seeing rapid growth among the Haredi, strictly orthodox sector, at the same time as a steady ‘hollowing out’ of the centre.’