Britain is becoming an increasingly godless society, with more than half of the population now describing themselves as having “no religion”, new figures reveal.
The proportion of non-believers is at a record high of 53%, according to the latest data from the National Centre for Social Research’s (NatCen) British social attitudes survey.
The 2016 research found 15% of people belonged to the Church of England (CofE), 9% to the Catholic Church, 17% to other Christian denominations, and 6% to other religions.
The proportion of those who describe themselves as having “no religion” has increased gradually since the survey began in 1983, when it stood at 31%.
Roger Harding, NatCen’s head of public attitudes, said: “This increase follows the long-term trend of more and more of us not being religious.
“The differences by age are stark and with so many younger people not having a religion it’s hard to see this change abating any time soon.
“The falls in those belonging to the Church of England are the most notable, but these figures should cause all religious leaders to pause for thought.”
The proportion of people who consider themselves Anglican has dropped from 30% in 2000 to 15%, while the proportion of people describing themselves as Catholic has remained relatively stable over the past 30 years at around one in 10.
Researchers said the fall in religious affiliation has, at least in part, been driven by young people, with 71% of those aged 18 to 24 saying they had no religion in 2016, up from 62% in 2015.
The data, drawn from 2,942 interviews with a random sample of adults, shows a decline in religious affiliation among all age groups over the same period, but among the oldest people, those with no religion are still in the minority.
Just four in 10 people aged between 65 and 74 say they have no religion, with the proportion dropping to 27% among those aged 75 and over.
Young people are particularly underrepresented within the CofE, with just 3% of those aged between 18 and 24 describing themselves as Anglican.
But the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, said: “God remains relevant. The church remains relevant
“We in the church, and all who love the church, need to keep finding ways to show and tell those who say they have ‘no religion’ that faith – faith in the God who loves them still – can make that life-transforming difference for them and for the world.”
He added: “In this modern world people are more willing to be honest and say they have ‘no religion’ rather than casually saying they are ‘CofE’. This honesty is welcome.”
The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, said: “Of course it’s always troubling for the institution of the church to see numbers declining and to hear how younger people are less and less engaged with the life of the church.
“But the church is not an institution. The church is that community of men and women whose lives are centred on Christ. We do care about numbers, but only because we care about people.”
Humanists UK said the figures must raise fresh questions about the place of churches in the running of state schools and their other state-funded privileges.
The charity’s chief executive Andrew Copson said: “How can it be right that 97% of young people today are not Anglicans, but some 20% of the state schools to which their children will go belong to the Church of England?
“More generally, how can the Church of England remain in any meaningful sense the national legally established church, when it caters for such a small portion of the population?”