Church of England numbers at record low

By agency reporter
September 8, 2018

The most recent British Social Attitudes survey reveals that the number of British people who identify as Church of England has more than halved in the last fifteen years.

The numbers have fallen from 31 per cent to 14 per cent. The sharpest decline happened among 45 to 54 year olds (35 per cent in 2002 vs 11 per cent in 2017). The proportion of people who describe themselves as Roman Catholic (eight per cent), belonging to ‘other Christian affiliations’ (10 per cent) and ‘of non-Christian faiths’ (eight per cent) have remained fairly stable. 52 per cent of people now say they have no religion, compared with 41 per cent in 2002. Men are more inclined to say they follow no religion than women (57 per cent compared with 48 per cent).

Although religious affiliation has dropped across all age groups, young people are least likely to be religious. Of those aged 18-24,  70 per cent say they have no religion. This is an increase from 56 per cent in 2002. Two per cent of this group view themselves as Anglicans, down from nine per cent in 2002. In contrast, Britons aged 65 and over are most likely to say they belong to the Church of England (30 per cent). In 2002, 51 per cent of this age group identified as Church of England. This age group has also seen a sharp decline in religious identity, with 34 per cent saying they have no religion in 2017, compared with 18 per cent in 2002. In 2002, Thirty-five per cent of 45 to 54 year olds said they followed the Church of England. The figure for that age group is now 11 per cent – the biggest fall in percentage points across age groups.

The findings also highlight a significant gap between religious affiliations when it comes to church attendance. 21 per cent of respondents who affiliate themselves with the Church of England say they attend church – apart from special occasions, such as weddings and funerals- at least once a month. This is compared with 42 per cent of Roman Catholics. The majority of Brits who follow either religion attend church less than a month (CofE 78 per cent, Roman Catholics 58 per cent).

The number of Scots who say they belong to the Church of Scotland has fallen overall, from 31 per cent in 2002 to 18 per cent in 2017. In 2002, 14 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 said they followed the Church of Scotland, compared with four per cent in 2017. In 2002, 24 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 said they followed the Church of Scotland, the figure is now 13 per cent. 32 per cent of those aged 55 and over say they do so, down from 50 per cent in 2002.

Fifty six per cent of Scots now say they have no religion. Those aged 18 to 34 are the most likely to say this (73 per cent), followed by 35 to 54 year olds (59 per cent) and those aged 55 and over (42 per cent). All age groups have seen a decline in religious identity of between 11-17 per cent in the last fifteen years, which has gone hand in hand with a gradual decline in church attendance at Church of Scotland services. 33 per cent of those affiliated with the Church of Scotland attended at least once per month in 2002 while now only 25 per cent do.

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 one 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.”

* National Centre for Social Research


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