Census results show huge shift in cultural identity from Christianity to no religion

11 December, 2012

Census results just published show a plunge in the number of people ticking ‘Christian’ in England and Wales from 72% in 2001 to 59% in 2011 and an increase in the number of people ticking to say they have no religion from 15% in 2001 to 25% in 2011.

This represents a 67% relative rise in the number saying ‘no religion’.

In addition, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has calculated that if the change in Christianity showed between 2001 and 2011 continues at a linear rate, then Christians would be recorded as in the minority by the Census question from September 2018.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘This is a really significant cultural shift. In spite of a biased question that positively encourages religious responses, to see such an increase in the non-religious and such a decrease in those reporting themselves as Christian is astounding. Of course these figures still exaggerate the number of Christians overall – the number of believing, practicing Christians is much lower than this and the number of those leading their lives with no reference to religion much higher.

‘Religious practice, identity, belonging and belief are all in decline in this country, and non-religious identities are on the rise. It is time that public policy caught up with this mass turning away from religious identities and stopped privileging religious bodies with ever increasing numbers of state-funded religious schools and other faith-based initiatives. They are decreasingly relevant to British life and identity and governments should catch up and accept that fact.’

Ahead of the 2011 Census the BHA organised the large scale public information campaign ‘The Census Campaign’, with the slogan ‘If you’re not religious for God’s sake say so!’, to encourage the non-religious to tick the ‘No religion’ box on the Census and try to reduce the exaggeration in the Census figures due to the leading nature of the question.

In England and Wales, the question on ‘religion’ in the 2001 and 2011 Censuses asked, ‘What is your religion?’ This is a loaded question, because it assumes that the respondent has a religion. In addition, many respondents who respond to this by ticking a religion only do so because their family brought them up in that religion, not because they believe in it or practice it. As a result, the data on religion in the Census should be viewed as more indicative of culture than religion.

The Census results are contradicted by data from various other surveys over the past decade, which record higher figures for the percentage of the population which is non-religious. In the 2001 Census, only 14.6% of respondents in England and 18.63% in Wales ticked the ‘No Religion’ box. But according to the 28th British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA), published in December 2011, 50% of the British population do not regard themselves as belonging to a religion. The 28th BSA also found that religious belief in Britain has been in decline over the past three decades: ‘One in three (31%) in 1983 did not belong to a religion, compared with one in two (50%) now.’


Please contact BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson on 020 3675 0959 or at andrew@humanists.uk.

Visit the Census Campaign website: http://census-campaign.org.uk/

View our analysis of the results, to be updated as the day goes on: http://humanists.uk/campaigns/census-2011/census-2011-results/

Read other surveys and statistics on religion or belief: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/religion-and-belief-surveys-statistics

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.