Survey Variable: Religious Involvement

As Verba, Schlozman, and Brady showed thirty years ago, albeit in the context of the United States, religious institutions can act as important drivers of political participation. They provide social networks and prompt people to develop and use civic skills, both of which can prove useful when participating in politics. As such, the Privilege and Participation survey asked people about their religious identities and activities. As we can see in Figure 1 (above, using weighted data), almost half of people (47.2%) do not feel an affinity with any religion (panel A).[1] Three in ten (30.0%) identify as Church of England, a further one in twelve (8.4%) see themselves as some other type of Protestant and a similar number (8.2%) see themselves as Catholic, leaving 6.8% of people who identify as another religion. Crucially, however, fewer people exercise their religious beliefs by undertaking the basic religious activity of attending services (Panel B). More than two thirds of people (68.8%) never attend services, whilst almost a fifth (18.8%) do so less than monthly. This leaves only one in eight people (12.4%) who attend religious services at least once a month.

This low level of religious participation is also manifested in the small numbers who undertake various voluntary activities for their religion, as shown in Figure 2 (below, also using weighted data). The exception to this is the almost one quarter of people (23.6%) who donate money to their religion, which might be through collections at services, donating to appeals for charitable causes made by religious institutions, or support for religious charities. Beyond donating, however, only one in seven people (13.6%) consider themselves to be a member of a local religious congregation, half as many (6.3%) volunteer for their congregation, and a similar number (5.9%) attend meetings (other than services) relating to their religion. No more than one in twenty-five people participate in any of the other activities relating to their religion: holding a voluntary official position (4.0%); giving presentations (3.3%); writing letters (2.3%); planning or chairing meetings (1.8%). Thus, it is fair to say that Great Britain is not teaming with people who undertake extensive religious activities.

Figure 2. See also Table A2.

The low levels of religious activity are further illustrated by the amounts of time, money, and civic skills that are contributed or dedicated to people’s religions, as shown in Figure 3 (below, also using weighted data).[2] Only one in twenty-five people (4.0%) volunteer at least two hours a week for their religion, and we can imagine that it is the dedication this very small group of people who keep some religious congregations and institutions running. As we saw above, People are more generous with their money and, whilst one in eight (12.8%) give £50 or less per year, one in ten (10.8%) donate at least £50 to their religion each year. At the higher end of the scale, a small group of one in twenty-five people (3.9%) donate at least £500 a year, representing a sizeable contribution to the coffers of religious institutions and congregations. Finally, manifesting the opposite trend to volunteering and donating, the small minority of people who exercise civic skills on behalf of their religions are most likely to do so in only one fashion (one in eighteen people (5.7%)). Fewer than one in seventy-five people (1.3%) exercise two skills, and fewer than one in a hundred stretch to either three (0.8%) or four (0.7%). Thus, as we saw with donating and volunteering for organisations more generally, there are small numbers of people who are willing to make considerable contributions to keep religious organisations going whilst most people rarely or never engage, even if they identify as having a religion.

Variables namesback_relig_inst, back_relig_par, back_relig_vol,
back_relig_officpos, back_reldon_ir, back_cs_rel_1,
back_cs_rel_2, back_cs_rel_3, back_cs_rel_4
Number of cases1,405
Number of categories3-6
Categories to code as missingNone
Cases to code as missingNone
Recoded variable namesback_relmem_b, back_relscp_b, back_relvol_b,
back_relop_b, back_reldon_b, back_relcsl_b,
back_relcsa_b, back_relcsc_b, back_relcsp_b,
Number of cases1,405
Number of categories2-5
New and old categoriesback_relmem_b recoded from back _relig_inst,
back_relscp_b recoded from back_relig_par,
back_relvol_b recoded from back_relig_vol,
back_relop_b recoded from back_relif_officpos,
back_relcsl_b recoded from back_relcs_rel_1,
back_relcsa_b recoded from back_relcs_rel_2,
back_relcsc_b recoded from back_relcs_rel_3,
back_relcsp_b recoded from back_relcs_rel_4.
For each of the above, the original question
was only asked to respondents who indicated
that they have some religious affiliation. In
each case:
0 (‘No’) = 2 (‘No’) + 9 (‘Not asked’)
1 (‘Yes’) = 1 (‘Yes’)

back_reldon_b recoded from back_reldon_ir.
The original question was, again, only asked
to respondents who indicated that they have
some religious affiliation and back_reldon_ir
is a recode of that. As such, the recoding is
as follows:
0 (‘No’) = 0 (‘Nothing’)
1 (‘Yes’) = 1 (‘£50 or less’) + 2 (‘£50 – £100’) +
3 (‘£100 – £250’) + 4 (‘£250 – £500’) + 5
(‘£500 or more’)

The count of civic skills exercised on behalf
of one’s religion (back_relcs_c) was created
by adding the four civic skill binaries created
above (back_relcsl_b, back_relcsa_b,
back_relcsc_b, and back_relcsp_b) together,
such that 0 on the new variable indicates
that no civic skills are exercised on behalf
of one’s religion, whilst 4 indicates that
all four of the civic skills that were asked
about are.
Details of the original and recoded religious involvement variables.

[1] See also Table A1.

[2] See also Table A3.

Published by joegreenwoodhau

Joe Greenwood-Hau is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Government & Public Policy at the University of Strathclyde, where he works on the Capital, Privilege and Political Participation in Britain and Beyond project.

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