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A Quarter of Nonreligious Britons Pray - Report from St Mary's Reveals

A quarter of people in Britain who identify as having no religion admit to praying, a new report shows.

A quarter of people in Britain who identify as having no religion admit to praying, a new report shows.

Analysis from the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, reveals that almost one in four Britons who identify as having no religion say that prayer forms a part of their life, while a similar proportion also admit to attending religious services. 

The report, The “no religion” population of Britain, explores recent data from two highly respected, nationally representative sources: the British Social Attitudes Survey and the European Social Survey.

According to its findings, 48.6 per cent of the adult population now identify as nonreligious – a group described in the report as “Nones”.

 However, underlining the complexity of nonreligious identity in Britain, almost three in every five of these Nones affirm some level of personal religiousness above “none at all”.

The report shows that approximately 2.8 million Nones say they pray monthly or more, or rate their own level of religiosity highly, while 4 per cent report that they pray on a daily basis. The analysis also demonstrates a gradual progression of prayer up the ages, with almost a quarter of Nones over 75 saying they pray at least monthly.

Among Nones, never attending church is most common among those aged 18-24, but there are slight peaks in frequent (monthly or more) practice for those aged 35-44, which could be associated with family or faith school links.

 Overall, Britain has seen a gradual increase in children being brought up without a religion as well as people coming to identify as having no religion. The report shows that while only 20 per cent of the population say they were brought up with no religion, two-and-a-half times as many (50%) now self-describe in this way. 

Interestingly, 61 per cent of Nones say that were raised as Christians (cradle Christians). There are now approximately two-thirds the number of current Anglicans, Catholics and Other Christians as were raised with those religions. Meanwhile, the combined Non-Christian religions have the same proportion of born and raised followers as they do current adherents.

Other findings in the report include:

  • 2009 was the first year in which Nones outnumbered all Christians put together and this pattern has held in most years since.
  • More than 90 per cent of people who were raised with no religion have retained this identity into adulthood. Fewer than one in twenty “cradle Nones” now identify as a Christian.
  • In 1983, 67 per cent of Britons identified as some kind of Christian. In 2015, this was 43 per cent. Over the same period, members of non-Christian religions have more than quadrupled.
  • For every one person brought up with No religion who has become a Christian, 26 people brought up as Christians now identify as Nones.
  • Nones are more likely to be men (55 per cent) than women (45 per cent) and an estimated 10.9 million women are Nones. However, in the two youngest cohorts (18-24 and 25-34), there is almost an exact gender balance of Nones.
  • The majority of British Nones are White; overall the non-religious are only 1 per cent Black, 2 per cent Asian and 2 per cent Mixed or other.
  • Among 25-54 year olds, the nonreligious have the lowest proportion of university graduates.
  • The proportion of Nones is highest in the South East (58 per cent) and lowest in Inner London (31 per cent).
  • Scotland and Wales are the least religious-affiliating areas after the South East.

Speaking about these findings, author of the report, Professor Stephen Bullivant, the Director of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society, said: “Those identifying with ‘No religion’ make up almost half of the population of Great Britain and this is the first detailed profile we have of this hugely significant group.

“The growth of the nonreligious is the topic in the religious history of Britain – as elsewhere –over the past several decades, and this data highlights the complexity of what that actually means in practice. Equally interesting, however, is the fact that in recent years – since 2009 – ‘No religion’ has stopped growing as a share of the population. It’s by no means in decline, of course, but we’re no longer seeing year-on-year increases. Meanwhile, in the last few years, the Anglican share of the population has finally stabilised, after a long period of gradual decline.

“What is certain, is that the challenge for the churches is twofold: 1) improve the “retention” of those brought up as Christians so that a much higher proportion remain as Christians in adult life, and 2) seek new ways to reach and attract people raised outside of Christianity. As things stand, for every one cradle None who has become some kind of Christian, there are twenty-six cradle Christians who have become Nones later in life. So there’s a lot to be done.”

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