Saturday, January 24, 2009

Observations on EHRC report: some data on partnerships between Christians and non-Christians

The Equality and Human Rights Commission published on Monday some research carried out By Essex University into UK ethnicity. The report by Lucinda Platt is entitled Ethnicity and Family: Relationships within and between ethnic groups: An analysis using the Labour Force Survey at the Institute for Social & Economic Research and featured quite prominently in an article on the BBC News Web site.

What the title and the BBC article doesn't make explicit is that this survey contained religious-related data. Since the beginning of this decade, the UK Government has been more active in including religion in demographic analyses - most notably including for the first time in the 2001 National Census a question about religious affiliation. Here, data is drawn from the Labour Force Survey, which is a quarterly longitudinal survey that involves about 60,000 households selected according to postcode - it's a good size, certainly good enough for considering Christian identity. For reference, you can take a look at some details about basic specification highlighting the questions on ethnicity and much more comprehensive treatment in the User Guide

As with the census, some attention is given to religion and in recent years there have been two questions. Using as a guide the [software] specification of the form used in 2008, the question is put as follows:


What is your religion even if you are not currently practising?

  1. Christian
  2. Buddhist
  3. Hindu
  4. Jewish
  5. Muslim
  6. Sikh
  7. Any other religion
  8. Or no religion at all

There are of course many other religions - MultiFaithNet, for example, adds Baha'i, Jainism and Zoroastrianism - but I guess the six listed are considered the most numerous. Also it is useful to distinguish between identity and practice, which is sometimes catered for in another question: Do you consider that you are actively practising your religion? However, it appears to have been only sporadically incorporated.

Why my interest? As part of my course in religious studies I'm intending to write an essay concerning the Catholic Church's attitudes, responses etc to Catholics marrying non-Catholics (such was the case of my parents) and am seeking to gain some idea of general trends to support my contention that this is an issue that needs addressing!

So what are the findings? First, I make a disclaimer that I'm not a statistician!

Tables 23 to 30 report on partnership patterns according to religious affiliation. If we concentrate on those who designated themselves as Christians, the pattern of data is as follows:

Percentage of Christian with no partner | Percentage of Christian-Christian partnerships | Percentage of Christian with a partner from a different religion.

Tables 25-30 are particularly interesting because they show figures by age bands, which can give some indication of trends. To keep things simple, I'll just confine our attention to percentage figures for Christian men who are in a couple [defined as cohabitees and legally married]:

Cohort aged 16-29:
88 (same religion) 12 (different religion)

Cohort aged 30-59:
95 (same religion) 5 (different religion)

Cohort aged 60+: 98 (same religion) 2 (different religion)

(Note that the sample sizes for 16-29 are much smaller than the other two, but still run into thousands.)

The demographic pattern seems pretty clear to me - for each successive generation, more and more of the couples where one partner is Christian are in partnerships with someone who is not baptised. As far as I know, there are only figures for denomination for Northern Ireland, so we can't find out from the original data any indication of what proportion of Christians here are Catholics, but given that the proportion of those in partnerships with those of another religion or none goes up several hundred percent when comparing the oldest to youngest cohort, it appears very significant and meriting attention of any large Christian denomination.

I expect that in future there'll be a lot more research delving into the UK's plural religious landscape!

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