The latest census results in England and Wales have revealed a shift in the religious landscape, with more people under the age of 40 declaring themselves as having “no religion” than identifying as Christian. This marks the first time in history that the UK’s dominant religion has taken second place in any age group. Over 50% of people in their twenties now identify as non-religious, compared to under 37% a decade ago. This change is expected to ignite discussions around the role of the Church of England in parliament and the requirement for state schools to provide daily “broadly Christian” worship.
Christianity had always been the majority in every age group in the past when the Office for National Statistics conducted its religious survey. However, the current results show a significant shift, with 9.8 million Christians under 40, compared to 13.6 million people with no religion. Campaigners for non-religious individuals have claimed that these figures demonstrate a clear shift towards a non-religious future and have called on the government to adjust public policy to reflect this change.
Abby Day, a professor at Goldsmiths, University of London, believes that the rejection of same-sex marriage by the Church of England will further the trend of people turning away from Christianity. Day states that the church continues to be “radically out of step” with the current generation. Andrew Copson, the CEO of Humanists UK, also commented on the results, stating that they highlight the outdated place of religious worship and discrimination in schools. He further adds that England and Wales are unique in Europe in having such a religious setup in terms of law and policy, while at the same time having such a non-religious population.
In response to the results, the Church of England has pledged to reach out to the younger generation and spread the message of Jesus Christ. Dr. Stephen Hance, the national lead on evangelism, stated that younger people today may not be as familiar with the Christian faith as previous generations, but they are still open to faith. The Church’s research on prayer showed that younger people may even be more likely to pray than older generations.
The census results from December had already shown that England is no longer a majority Christian country, with the growth of “no religion” being the main factor. The latest data, which provides a more in-depth look at the religious makeup of England and Wales by age and sex, reveals that the youngest non-believers can be found among 27-year-olds, where over half do not believe in a deity. Meanwhile, the majority of Christians can be found among 89-year-olds, where eight out of ten people believe. The average age of those identifying as Christian has increased from 45 in 2011 to 51 in 2021.
Followers of Islam have the youngest age profile, with an average of 27 years, followed by those with “no religion” at 32 years. The average age of Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists has also increased, but Christians are by far the oldest, with an average age of 51. The average age of Jewish people remains unchanged at 41 and is more evenly distributed than the overall population. Among the minority religions recorded in the census, Satanists have an average age of 30, Shamans 37, Wiccans 39, Scientologists 45, druids 53, and free thinkers 58.