England and Wales have become minority Christian countries for the first time, with less than half of the population identifying with the religion, the 2021 Census found.
Just 46.2% of the population described themselves as Christian on census day, 21 March last year, down from 59.3% a decade earlier, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. The survey was filled out by more than 24m households across England and Wales - and covers ethnicity, religion, national identity and language. The Census takes place across the UK every 10 years and provides the most accurate estimate of all the people and households in the country.
The percentage of people saying they had no religion jumped from around a quarter in 2011 (25.2%) to over a third in 2021 (37.2%). This was the second most common response and the number ticking this box has almost trebled since 2001.
There were increases in the proportion of people describing themselves as Muslim (up from 4.9% to 6.5%) and Hindu (from 1.5% to 1.7%). London remains the most religiously diverse region of England, with just over a quarter (25.3%) of people on the day of the 2021 census reporting a religion other than Christian.
South-west England is the least religiously diverse region, with 3.2% selecting a religion other than Christian. The religion question was voluntary on the 2021 census but was answered by 94.0% of the population of England and Wales, the ONS said.
The Archbishop of York said the country had “left behind the era when many people almost automatically identified as Christian”. The Most Rev Stephen Cottrell said: “It’s not a great surprise that the census shows fewer people in this country identifying as Christian than in the past, but it still throws down a challenge to us not only to trust that God will build his kingdom on Earth but also to play our part in making Christ known.”
Humanists UK ran a campaign in the run-up to the 2011 and 2021 censuses encouraging non-religious people to tick the “no religion” box on the form. Chief executive Andrew Copson said the figures should be a “wake-up call which prompts fresh reconsiderations of the role of religion in society”.
He said: “These results confirm that the biggest demographic change in England and Wales of 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 chief executive Stephen Evans said: “It’s official – we are no longer a Christian country.”
Other key Census figures
- Some 81.7% (48.7 million) of usual residents identified their ethnic group as white, a decrease from 86.0% (48.2 million) in 2011.
- In 2021, 91.1% (52.6 million) of usual residents aged three years and over had English (English or Welsh in Wales) as a main language.
- 90.3% (53.8 million) of usual residents identified with at least one UK national identity (English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, British and Cornish).
- London remains the most ethnically diverse region of England, with 36.8% of people identifying as “white English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish or British”, down from 44.9% in 2011.
- The most common main languages in 2021 other than English were Polish (1.1% of the population), Romanian (0.8%), Panjabi (0.5%) and Urdu (0.5%).
- Some 14 local authorities recorded more than half of their usual residents as identifying with an ethnic group other than white.