Less than half of England and Wales’ population identifies as Christian, census data has revealed for the first time, prompting a reconsideration of religion’s role in society.
About 46.2% of the population self-identified as Christian on 2021 census day, down from 59.3% in 2011, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
It is the first time that the percentage has dropped below half.
During the same period, the percentage of people who say they have no religion rose from 25.2% to over a third in 2021 (37.2%).
This was the second most common response, and the number ticking this box has nearly tripled since 2001.
The Archbishop of York said the decline in people identifying as Christians “isn’t a big surprise” but acknowledged that it “throws a challenge”.
The Rev. Stephen Cottrell said: “We are behind us the era in which many people almost automatically identified as Christians, but other surveys consistently show that the same people still seek spiritual truth and wisdom and a set of values in on which to live”.
Humanists UK, which campaigned ahead of the two most recent censuses encouraging non-religious people to tick the form’s ‘no religion’ box, said the result should be a “wake-up call for fresh reconsiderations of the role of religion in society”.
Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: “These findings confirm that the biggest demographic change in England and Wales over the last 10 years has been the dramatic growth of the non-religious.
“They mean the UK is almost certainly one of the least religious countries on Earth.”
The National Secular Society said the figures show aspects of the society, such as the Anglican establishment and daily prayers and worship in parliament and schools, are “all inappropriate, hopelessly outdated and fail to reflect the country we actually live in.” ” and called for reform.
Chief Executive Stephen Evans said: “It’s official – we are no longer a Christian country.”
He added: “The current status quo, in which the Church of England is deeply enshrined in the UK constitution, is unfair and undemocratic and looks increasingly absurd and unsustainable.”
Deborah Weston, of the RE Policy Unit, said selecting ‘no religion’ “doesn’t mean that person isn’t thinking about life’s big questions.”
He said: “In light of this, we need religious education in schools to reflect the pluralistic, diverse and often complicated belief in modern Britain, where a worldview can be composed of both religious and non-religious ideas.”
The religion question was voluntary in the 2021 census, but 94% of the population of England and Wales answered it, up from 92.9% in 2011, the ONS added.
The percentage of people who define themselves as Muslims (from 4.9% to 6.5%) and Hindus (from 1.5% to 1.7%) increased.
In a third of households (32.7% – 8.1 million) all members reported the same religion, while 13.7% (3.4 million) have a mix of religious and non-religious people and in 1 .1% (285,000) at least two different religions were reported.
In a fifth of families (20.4% – 5.1 million) all members declared that they have no religion.
London remains the most religiously diverse region of England, with just over a quarter (25.3%) of people on 2021 census day declaring a religion other than Christianity.
South West England is the least religiously diverse region, with 3.2% choosing a religion other than Christianity.
In two out of three local authorities (218) less than 50% of people define themselves as Christian.
Brighton and Bristol are among eight local areas in England where less than a third of the population identifies as Christian.
Leicester and Slough have a similarly low proportion, along with four London boroughs: Camden, Hackney, Redbridge and Tower Hamlets.
The 2021 survey, conducted on 21 March, was completed by over 24 million households in England and Wales.
The data released on Tuesday covers ethnicity, religion, national identity and language.
It also noted that:
About 81.7% (48.7 million) of usual residents identified their ethnic group as white, down from 86% (48.2 million) in 2011;
– In 2021, 91.1% (52.6 million) of usual residents aged three and over had English (English or Welsh in Wales) as their primary language; And
– 90.3% (53.8 million) usually identified residents with at least one British national identity (English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, British and Cornish).
The census takes place across the UK every 10 years and provides the most accurate estimate of all people and households in the country.
Further data will be released gradually over the next two years.