New poll shows one in five are humanists, and a third hold humanist beliefs

15 June, 2017

More than one in five people have humanist beliefs and values, a new survey published today has revealed. The new research, conducted by YouGov, has found that 22% of people are non-religious, use science in place of faith to understand the universe, and take a non-religious approach to ethical decisions. The research is published following on from the fact that the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people, the British Humanist Association, has relaunched as Humanists UK.

YouGov asked people three questions: about whether they use science or faith to understand the Universe; whether they take a consequentialist, absolutist, or entirely personal approach to ethical questions; and whether religion is required to understand right from wrong. Prior to that, people were also asked whether they regard themselves as belonging to any particular religion, and if they said none, whether they would describe themselves using any of several terms used to refer to non-religious people (including humanist).

The findings are:

  • 44% of the general population said that they did not consider themselves to belong to any particular religion. This is towards the low end of recent public surveys on religious belonging which often put the figure at around 50%. At any rate, this number is comparable to the number of people who say they are Christians.
  • 5% further readily identified with the term humanist – meaning there are more people who readily describe themselves as humanists than, for example, Muslims.
  • 33% selected humanist answers to the three questions put to them, and therefore hold humanist beliefs. This is more than the number of people the survey identified as Anglicans. However, one third of this third, or 11% of the whole population, also said they belong to a religion, suggesting that many people who consider themselves to be religious – perhaps for cultural reasons – in fact do not hold religious beliefs.
  • 22% of the population, therefore, are non-religious and hold humanist beliefs, and so are humanists. This is more than double the number of Catholics in the UK. A majority of those who readily identified with the labels ‘atheist’ or ‘agnostic’ are in this group.
  • Finally, this group was asked whether they agree they meet the definition of being a humanist. 17% now would identify themselves as a humanist. 4% weren’t sure, while 1% disagreed. The response of the 5% who didn’t agree was generally due to either confusion about the term ‘humanist’ or the desire not to label themselves.

The results, published today, helped influence the relaunch of the British Humanist Association as Humanists UK: a new name that better reflects the purpose of the organisation, which is to work on behalf of humanists right across the UK.

Humanists UK President Shappi Khorsandi commented, ‘Humanist is the word people use to talk about a way of thinking that is based in logic, evidence, and reason, but also kindness and warmth to our fellow human beings. It’s no surprise to me to see that humanism is in the ascendancy. If you turn on the TV on any given weeknight, you’ll see prominent humanists like Stephen Fry, Tim Minchin, Sandi Toksvig, and Sara Pascoe making us laugh, or Jim Al-Khalili or Alice Roberts teaching us something new. Go to a library and every shelf will have a humanist on it, whether that’s Ian McEwan or George Orwell, or George Eliot, or Virginia Woolf.

‘But the fact that humanists are now in ascendancy doesn’t make the work of Humanists UK any less important. In fact, the opposite is true. There’s growing demand for humanist ceremonies, intense demand for non-religious pastoral support in hospitals and prisons, and more demand from teachers who want to explore humanism in classrooms. Similarly, our work for free thinking and freedom of choice is growing more important by the day, along with our campaigns for state services like schools to be fully inclusive of non-religious families as well as those from all religions. Humanists UK is better equipped than ever to take this work forward.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘These new figures show that humanists are a much-overlooked segment of the population. Politicians in particular need to take notice. There are millions of people in this country going about their lives, thinking for themselves and acting for others, making moral choices on and the basis of reason, empathy, and simple kindness, and finding that this way of thinking can make you happier, more confident, and more fulfilled.’

Commenting on the charity’s relaunch as Humanists UK, Mr Copson continued, ‘We are delighted that our new image will enable us reach new audiences and bring more like-minded people together to develop their own views about the world and to work for a fairer society.’

Notes and FAQs

For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 020 3675 0959.

Read the poll results:

The new logo is available at:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association:

What is a humanist?

Humanists are people who shape their own lives in the here and now, because we believe it’s the only life we have. We make sense of the world through logic, reason, and evidence, and always seek to treat those around us with warmth, understanding, and respect.

Can you be a humanist and not know it?

Being a humanist isn’t like belonging to a religion – you don’t sign up to the code and then have to take the rough with the smooth. Lots of people who meet the definition of a humanist – seeing the world through evidence and reason, approaching issues compassionately and empathetically – have never heard of the word, and may think of themselves primarily as atheists, agnostics, or just not bothered by religion.