Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Losing my religion?

The results of last year’s census in England and Wales have been released today and the Guardian is running a useful live blog analysing the results. (Scotland and Northern Ireland hold their own censuses; Northern Ireland’s results will be released later today, while Scotland’s are out next week).

It is no surprise that home ownership has fallen by 7% since the previous census in 2001, given the inflated house prices and financial crisis of the past decade. What is surprising is how drastic this fall has been in London, where home ownership has collapsed by almost 40%.

The most striking figure, though, is the fall in religious affiliation, despite the fact that the 2011 census biased the results by asking a loaded question (“What is your religion?”).

Compared with 2001, people describing themselves as Christians are down 13 percentage points from 72% to 59%. Meanwhile, respondents with no religion are up 10 points from 15% to 25%. But these figures need to be read in conjunction with the results for ethnicity. The ‘white British’ group now accounts for 80% of the population, compared with 87% in 2001. Given that other ethnic groups tend to be more religious than average, this probably means that the fall in religious belief is even greater among white British people.

The census’s understatement of the decline in religion is borne out by the 2009 British Social Attitudes survey, which showed that 50.7% of people in Great Britain have no religion. In any case, one wonders what most of the census respondents who ticked the box marked ‘Christian’ actually meant, since only 6% of the UK population regularly attends church.

No religion has suffered a greater fall than the Jedi Knights. In the 2001 census, a write-in campaign secured 0.7% declaring their religion as Jedi, a bigger proportion than those who cited Buddhism, Judaism and Sikhism. This time, the figure is only 0.31%. Thankfully, the remaining 176,632 Jedi Knights still comfortably outnumber the 1,893 people who declared themselves Satanists.

Jedis or not, this sharp decline in religion makes the government’s support for faith schools look even more ridiculous than before. Not that the facts are likely to bother Michael Gove.

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