England and Wales are no longer majority Christian countries, data from the 2021 census has found. For the first time since questions on religion were first posed to the nations in 2001, the number of people describing themselves as Christian fell below 50 percent.
The census, which is compulsory for anyone living in England and Wales, asks respondents a number of demographic questions every 10 years to build up "snapshots" of society, and how it has changed over the years. The questions have changed over time, and since 2001 it has posed a voluntary question about the respondent's religion.
Of the 52.1 million respondents, 46.2 percent (27.5 million people) chose to describe themselves as "Christian", a drop of 13.1 percentage points compared to the responses from the 2011 census. "No religion" was the second most popular response, increasing by 12 percentage points to 37.2 percent (22.2 million respondents) over the responses in 2011.
The number of people describing themselves as "Muslim" went up by 1.6 percentage points to 6.5 percent (3.9 million), while people describing themselves as "Hindu" also increased, to 1.7 percent. Christianity remains the most popular religion, though it has declined as people describing themselves as having no religion have increased.
"This continues the trend between 2001 and 2011, when the number of people reporting "No religion" had risen from 14.8 percent (7.7 million people)," the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a release of the census findings.
Wales saw a greater decrease in people describing themselves as Christian and a roughly corresponding increase in people describing themselves as not having a religion (14 percentage point decrease vs 14.5 percentage point increase, compared to 2011). In England, the highest percentages of people calling themselves Christian were in the North West of the country, while the most godless areas (or to put it less dramatically, where people describe themselves as having no religion) were in Wales, being Caerphilly (56.7 percent), Blaenau Gwent (56.4 percent), and Rhondda Cynon Taf (56.2 percent).
"There are many factors that may be contributing to the changing religious composition of England and Wales, such as differing patterns of ageing, fertility, mortality, and migration," the ONS explained in their report. "Changes may also be caused by differences in the way individuals chose to answer the religion question between censuses."
The ONS says it will publish more detailed data and analysis on religion in the coming months.