Less than half of the population of England and Wales described themselves as “Christian” in the 2021 census, according to the results published today.
Of the 56 million people who responded to the question “What is your religion?” 27.5 million said “Christian”, 46.2 per cent. This was a 13.1 percentage point decrease from the 59.3 per cent in the 2011 survey and the first time that less than half the recorded population have described themselves as Christians.
The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said that the figures were “not a great surprise” but added that this development “still throws down a challenge to us not only to trust that God will build his kingdom on Earth but also play our part in making Christ known”.
He said: “We have left behind the era when many people almost automatically identified as Christian but other surveys show how the same people still seek spiritual truth and wisdom and a set of values to live by,” he said.
The proportion of census respondents who said they had “no religion” had increased by 12 percentage points since 2011 to 37.2 per cent, 22.2 million people. In Wales, the proportion was 46.5 per cent, more than the 43.6 per cent who said they were Christian.
Research published last week by the think tank Theos found that those who say they have “no religion” – around 50 per cent in recent British Social Attitudes surveys, and colloquially known as “nones” – varied significantly in their views of religion.
A report The Nones: Who are they and what do they believe? used data collected from 5000 people to categorise this group into three decreasing degrees of hostility towards religion: “Campaigning Nones”, “Tolerant Nones” and “Spiritual Nones”.
The last group, the report said, “are characterised by a range of spiritual beliefs and practices, as much as many people who tick the ‘religion’ box”.
It found that 51 per cent of those who said they had no religion also stated that they “don’t believe in God” and 42 per cent believe in some form of the supernatural.
Humanists UK, which last year ran a campaign encouraging census respondents to describe themselves as of “no religion”, issued a statement criticising the wording of the census question: “What is your religion?”