Field of Science

Pic of the week

The folks at BRIN have been busy putting together this fab chart showing generational changes in religion in Britain. The data are from the 2008 British Social Survey and show the religion in which people were brought up on the left, and their current religion on the right. Connecting the two are 'pipes' showing how people have switched - the fatter the pipe, the more people have followed that path.

What jumps out immediately is that, 'No religion' is now the biggest category, as a result of large numbers of people switching out from Christianity. What this chart also makes obvious is that very few British people switch religions,. What switching there is seems to mostly be out of religion altogether. 

What's more, non-Christians almost all have stayed religious - very few have switched out to non-religion. I guess that's because these people are mostly first or second-generation immigrants, for whom religion forms an important part of their cultural identity.

Now compare the UK chart with one done for the US by Internet Monk.

Some things are similar. Most notably, a lot of people have converted to 'no religion'. Unlike the UK, however, some people move from 'No religion' into a religious group. That hardly ever happens in the UK, and perhaps reflects the social pressures on US individuals to be at least nominally religious.

In the US, there seems to be more switching in general, however. Unlike the UK, there's noticeable switching from Catholic to Protestant (and vice versa), and even back and forth from 'other' religions.

I wonder why this should be?

Creative Commons License This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.


  1. IIRC, "other" in iMonk's chart is other christian denominations, not other religions. Maybe I'm wrong though.

  2. Can't help you much on reasons for the data - but I will say that the top graph looks a lot prettier. Maybe just the smoother lines and the bigger labels, but it took me far longer to work out what was going on in the bottom figure.

  3. Apparently other is 8% total: 0.9% other Christians, 0.7% JWs, 1.7% Mormons, and 4.7% other religions. Just realised I forgot the link to the Internet Monk - that's in now.

    I thought the top one looked a lot better, but it was easier to get a feel for the % of people switching (because you can see the width of the 'no change' pipe as a proportion of the bar.

  4. I think the lower one is clearer, because the the representation is consistently one-dimensional.

    On the upper plot, there's (presumably) a switch between the area-representation of the nodes on the left and right, and the width (presumably?) of the edges between them. Or are the edges to be interpreted as tubes, so that their capacity is the square of their thickness? It's unclear. And because of the (presumable) switch between between area and width, there's no clear connection between the area of a blob and the size of the tube. How do I know if 50% of the left-blob leave their group, for instance?

  5. Here is a bit of pure speculation.

    The lack of an established religion (such as the Church of England) made the United States religion market much more laissez faire and 'poaching' from other churches is derigueur. Couple that with a vestige of the pioneer mindset - if your not happy where you are then go somewhere else - then you end up with labile affiliations.

  6. I wonder if there is an error in the US graphic. There seems to be no change indicated for Black Protestantism, yet the blue band representing this denomination is narrower than the two blocks it connects, suggesting that there has been some change, but that the lines indicating this change were omitted from the graphic.

  7. @Keith: When I saw the situation you explained, my assumption was that the top and bottom markers were larger than the column itself in order to receive converts from other faiths. That is, yes, perhaps Black Protestants tended not to convert to other faiths but that other faiths did convert to it. As such, those from other faiths needed somewhere to 'land.' That is why the top and bottom markers are wider than the column itself.


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