Cities are often seen as heartlands of secular, liberal values. But London is actually the most religious region in the UK, and many Londoners hold quite traditional views on matters of personal morality.
Religious Londoners are a sizeable group – in fact, according to ONS data, 71 per cent of Londoners report following (but not necessarily practicing) a religion – but their experiences and behaviours have been underexplored. In a new regular survey of Londoners by Centre for London and Savanta, we have started to explore some of the key questions around who religious Londoners are and what life is like for them in the city. We found that…
1. Religious Londoners generally do better on educational attainment and have higher-graded jobs, but there are some important differences to be explored
Londoners who actively practice a religion (or religious Londoners as I’ll refer to them in this piece) have higher levels of educational attainment than their non-religious counterparts. Indeed, for 66 per cent of religious Londoners, higher education (university level) is their highest level of educational attainment compared to 55 per cent of non-religious Londoners.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising that religious Londoners are therefore more likely to be classed as the highest social grade (AB – denoting work in senior managerial and professional occupations); 44 per cent of religious Londoners are classified as AB, compared to 37 per cent of non-religious Londoners. However, our data shows that this is not equal across religions, with 45 per cent of Christian Londoners classified as AB, compared to just 30 per cent of Muslim Londoners.*
These differences are also likely to reflect more than just the impact of religious adherence – there is also a relationship between ethnicity, religious practice and social grade. In our survey, just a third of white Londoners said that they practiced a religion; this is compared to over two-thirds of non-white Londoners surveyed.
However, this goes against what we might assume. We know that those from BAME backgrounds face economic disadvantage and are more likely to be working in lower-graded occupations, but here we see religious Londoners, who are also more likely to be from a BAME background, are also more likely to work in higher social graded occupations . While it is difficult to draw firm conclusions here, the relationship between religion, ethnicity and social grade is an interesting one to unpick.
2. Religious Londoners are younger, but also tend to be in a relatively stable living situation
Religious Londoners are less likely to live alone and more likely to live with a partner or children, a “more traditional” family unit; only 15 per cent of religious Londoners live alone, while 57 per cent live with a partner and 41 per cent with children.
And this isn’t because they are older; in fact, our research shows that older Londoners are more likely to say that they do not practice a religion, while younger Londoners are more likely to say that they do; for instance 51 per cent of those aged 16-24 reported practising a religion compared to just 38 per cent of those aged 45-54. This shows that, contrary to common perceptions around age and religion, the capital has a strong cohort of religious young Londoners.
Furthermore, religious Londoners are more likely to own their own home than non-religious Londoners (57 per cent vs. 49 per cent), and less likely to rent (29 per cent vs. 47 per cent). However, this is not equal across groups. Rates of home ownership for Christian Londoners are 10 per cent higher than for Muslim Londoners (46 per cent vs. 57 per cent).
3. Religious Londoners are more negative about crime and security
Religious Londoners are more likely than non–religious Londoners to report that crime has been increasing in their area over the last year. Indeed, 45 per cent of those practising a religion say knife crime has increased in their neighbourhood in the last 12 months. This is compared to just 38 per cent of non-religious Londoners. Similarly, 42 per cent of religious Londoners say that gang related crime has increased in the last year, 10 per cent higher than non-religious Londoners.
Evidently, religious Londoners perceive or experience increasing levels of crime in their local areas to a greater degree than their non-religious counterparts. Our data doesn’t show us the reasons behind this, but religious Londoners may be more likely to live in high-crime areas, more engaged and aware of what’s happening in their neighbourhood, or more concerned about religious or racial hate crime because they are more likely to be victims of this.
4. Despite these security concerns, religious Londoners are still more positive about their neighbourhood and public services…
Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of religious Londoners agree that their neighbourhood is welcoming to people of all backgrounds, while 52 per cent say that there’s a strong sense of community in their neighbourhood (55 per cent and 33 per cent among non-religious Londoners). This is a substantial difference and is likely to be related to the fact that religious services and activities can foster a sense of community for attendees.
Alongside this stronger sense of community and neighbourhood values, religious Londoners are also significantly happier than non-religious Londoners with the quality of public services like healthcare, social housing and education – for instance, 57 per cent report that they are happy with the quality of education in the last 12 months, compared to just 39 per cent of non-religious Londoners. In part, some of these higher levels of happiness may be related to the higher social profile that was highlighted earlier.
5. …and optimistic about the future
61 per cent of Londoners say they are optimistic about the next 12 months with regards to their family situation, while 60 per cent report this about their health and 48 per cent about their personal finances. These are significantly higher levels of optimism than reported by non-religious Londoners, of whom 53 per cent are optimistic about their family situation, 48 per cent about their health and 35 per cent about their personal finances. This optimism is reflected in the fact that a higher proportion of religious Londoners say that they are happy living in the capital, compared to non-religious Londoners (68 per cent vs. 62 per cent).
In a lot of ways, religious Londoners fare well in this competitive city – for instance, in education, employment and home ownership. And despite some negative perceptions of crime and security, more positive experiences of life in the capital may be driving their optimism about their neighbourhoods and happiness.
However, religious Londoners are not one homogenous group. Experiences and perceptions are different across different religious groups. This survey has shown us that, on several measures, Christian Londoners are in a stronger position than Muslim counterparts. Delving further into this, as well as looking more in depth at religious groups for whom the results were too small to make any conclusions, and understanding more about religious Londoners and their lives in the capital is a worthwhile endeavour – when it comes to religion (among other things), London is a fascinating and unique place.
*Note: While other religious groups were surveyed, numbers were too small to draw any reliable conclusions.