09 February 2023, The Tablet

'Nones' may soon outnumber Christians

More respondents to the 2021 Census aged under 40 declared they have no-religion than said they profess Christianity.

'Nones' may soon outnumber Christians

The results of the 2021 Census showed Christians to be in a minority for the first time in 15 centuries.
Marcin Rogozinski/Alamy

Those of no religion are likely to outnumber Christians in a matter of decades, according to the latest statistics released from the 2021 Census. 

A new breakdown of census answers on belief show that more respondents aged under 40 declare they have no-religion than profess Christianity, and that over 50 per cent of 20-somethings state they have no religious belief.

Following the announcement late last year that for the first time in fifteen centuries a minority of English residents professed a Christian faith, the figures have invigorated secularist campaigners who say the evidence proves the UK has a “non-religious future”. 

In previous surveys, Christianity was the largest single belief group across all ages. Between 2011 and 2021, however, the demographics of those aged under 40 almost completely reversed, with professed Christians numbering 9.8 million in that age bracket and those of no religion reaching an all-time high of 13.6 million.

Between 2001 and 2021 the proportion of census respondents identifying as Christian shrank from 71.7 per cent to 46.2 per cent, a drop of over a third in just 20 years.

Christians are the oldest religious group in England, with an average age of 51, compared to an average age of 27 among Muslims. 

The decline of Christianity was especially notable amongst the youngest respondents, with the number of Christians aged 21-25 dropping from 1.7 million to 1.1 million in the last decade.

Already the most non-religious group, the census results suggest religious disaffiliation is widespread amongst younger age groups, with the number of Christians in the 2021 21-25 cohort less by around 800,000 than the 11-15 cohort in 2011.

Movements to no belief were notable across age groups, however, with the North East, the region with the oldest average age, seeing an increase of “no religion” by 16 per cent since 2011, higher than the national average.  

Confirming the findings of previous studies such as the British Social Attitudes Survey, the census results have bolstered campaigners for secularism, who argue the “non-religious future” predicted by the figures highlights the need for state institutions, especially religious involvement in the education system, to be reformed.

Humanists UK chief executive Andrew Copson said that the figures “made plain” that the UK’s future was as a non-religious country.

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