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British Social Attitudes: Church of England decline has accelerated in past decade

31 May 2015 | Tags: British Social Attitudes, religion and belief

The Church of England has been in decline for over 30 years and that decline appears to have accelerated over the last decade, new data from NatCen Social Research reveals.

The findings from NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey show that the proportion of British adults who say they are Anglican fell from 40% in 1983 to 17% in 2014. However the shift has been most dramatic over the last decade as the proportion has fallen by two fifths in ten years, down from 29% of the population in 2004.

In real terms, this suggests that the number of Anglicans in Britain fell by as many as 4.5 million over the last ten years from around 13 million people to about 8.5 million.  

The rise of atheism?

The biggest group remains people who say they have no religion, which accounts for around half (49%) of all people in Britain, up from 31% in 1983 and 43% a decade ago. 

However, most Christian denominations have remained fairly stable over the last 30 years; Roman Catholics and those we have grouped together as “other” which includes Methodists, Presbyterians and Christians without a denomination, make up 8% and 17% of the population respectively and remain at a similar level as in 1983.  

There has also been a significant rise in the proportion of people from religions other than Christian, up from 2% in 1983 to 8% in 2014. The biggest of these growing religions is Islam, which has grown from around half a percent of the population in 1983 to around 5% in 2014. 

Naomi Jones, Head of Social Attitudes, NatCen Social Research: “The proportion of people saying that they are Anglican has fallen quite dramatically in the last ten years, coinciding with a rise in people saying they are not religious. Meanwhile, members of other Christian and non-Christian religions have remained relatively constant and even increased.

We know from previous analysis of British Social Attitudes that the main explanation for the increase in British people saying they are not religious is generational displacement. In other words each generation is less religious than the next so as older generations die the overall population becomes less religious.

But this doesn’t explain why the Anglican Church alone continues to decline. One explanation for this might be that the numbers of Catholic and non-Christian people in Britain may have been supplemented by migrants with strong religious beliefs. While another explanation could be that in the past religion played a more prominent role in people’s identity. We know from recent NatCen research that people are less likely than in previous years to see being Christian as an important component of being British. Therefore, fewer British people may feel that the Church of England is an important part of their identity nowadays.” 


Data tables are available here.

For more information contact: 

Leigh Marshall, 0207 549 8506/07828 031 850

Sophie Brown, 0207 549 9550/07734 960 069


NatCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.

Sample and approach – The 2014 survey consisted of 2,878 interviews with a representative, random sample of adults in Britain. Interviewing was mainly carried out between August and October 2014, with a small number of interviews taking place in November 2014. Addresses are randomly selected and visited by one of NatCen Social Research’s interviewers. After selecting one adult at the address (again at random), the interviewer carries out an hour long interview. Most questions are answered by the participant selecting an answer from a set of cards.