New survey evidence shows that the census religion question is fatally flawed

Over the last decade, results from the religion question in the previous census have been used repeatedly as a proxy for religious belief in the planning public services.

We have argued throughout this campaign that this constitutes a misuse of the census data, because the census question ‘What is your religion?’ is so leading that it can only serve to measure cultural affiliation.  Now, courtesy of two very recent YouGov polls commissioned by the British Humanist Association and the Humanist Society of Scotland, we have even more evidence to support our claim.

On the poll carried out in England and Wales, when asked the census question ‘What is your religion?’, 61% of people in England and Wales ticked a religious box (53.48% Christian and 7.22% other) while 39% ticked ‘No religion’. But when asked ‘Are you religious?’ only 29% of the same people said ‘Yes’ while 65% said ‘No’, meaning over half of those whom the census would count as having a religion said they were not religious.

Even more revealingly, less than half (48%) of those who ticked ‘Christian’ said they believed that Jesus Christ was a real person who died and came back to life and was the son of God.

Asked when they had last attended a place of worship for religious reasons, most people in England and Wales (63%) had not attended in the past year, 43% of people last attended over a year ago and 20% of people had never attended. Only 9% of people had attended a place of worship within the last week.

In the Scottish poll, when asked the Scottish census question, ‘What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?’ 42% of the adult population in Scotland said ‘None’.  But when asked ‘Are you religious?’ 56% of the same Scots said they were not and only 35% said they were.

Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, commented,

‘Most people in the UK now say they’re not religious. In England and Wales, half the people who say they are Christian when asked the census question do not believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God, rose from the dead, and was a real person. Over half of those who tick a religious box on the census question have not been to a place of worship in over a year and asked “Are you religious?”, say they are not.

‘This poll is further evidence for a key message of The Census Campaign – that the data produced by the census, used by local and national government as if it indicates religious belief and belonging, is in fact highly misleading. We urge people who do not want to give continuing or even greater importance to unshared religions in our public life to tick “No Religion” in the census.’

Juliet Wilson, convener of the HSS, commented,

‘These polls suggest that in the Census, many more people will say they belong to a religion than is the case. The government will use census data to justify maintaining faith schools while religious groups will use it to lobby for their own institutions, and promote greater separateness in our already dangerously divided society. Our survey shows that Scotland is already effectively a secular country. But the only way the Scottish Parliament will recognise this is if people remember to put a big tick in the “None” box.’

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to New survey evidence shows that the census religion question is fatally flawed

  1. censustalk says:

    I believe that there are indeed issues with the census race and ethnicity categories. Looking through academic work, it is evident that there are misleading questions and answers being provided by people and the ONS

  2. Anonymous says:

    Why does it have to be just ONE question?

    1. Are you religious? YES / NO
    If you answered NO, skip the next question.

    2. What is your religion?

  3. Wayne Wilson says:

    The biggest problem with this question is that there really is no other way to ask it. It does come down to the individual to make sure it is answered properly. As for the question being fatally flawed, no, because a fatal flaw in something has the potential to cause death, similar to the design flaw in the Comet jet aircraft which caused the accidents and subsequently halted development of the plane.

    Bottom line is, if you are a non believer, whether you were baptised, brought up in a religious family or whatever, you tick NO RELIGION.

  4. I’d be interested in hearing what (if anything) the 52% of self-identified Christians who don’t believe in Jesus consider the word “Christian” means.