A YouGov Poll conducted last year in 2020 shows that the majority of those who celebrate Christmas (and Easter) in the UK do so in an entirely secular way.
The survey results provide some useful evidence to support the view that religion does not play a significant role in British society, as this traditionally Christian and religious event seems now to have lost its religious meaning for the majority of people.
These findings are mainly relevant to the beliefs in society module, especially the secularisation debate.
Below I share some of the findings from this recent survey. NB the Survey looked at both Christmas and Easter, but i only report on XMAS below, ’tis the season, after all!
The Declining Significance of Religion at Christmas
According to YouGov’s sample of almost 2000 people, 61% of them celebrate Christmas in an entirely secular way.
And while 31% say they ‘combine the religious and secular’ at Christmas, if you look at what people actually do, only 20% of them go to Church with 10% reflecting on the meaning of the Birth of Christ, and there must be some kind of overlap between these, so some of those 30% above may say they mix the secular and religious, but at least some of them don’t actually do anything to express that religiosity!
I quite liked this alternative way of measuring ‘religious attitudes at Christmas’ – 71% pay no attention to what the Pope or Arch Bishop of Canterbury say at Christmas…..
Although this doesn’t necessarily measure people’s level of belief, because you can be religious and yet no believe in religious authorities, but this does show us low levels of interest in formal religious hierarchies.
TBH I’m surprised that 27% of the population do pay some attention, I expected that to be lower.
Finally, the perception people have is that Christmas is becoming less religious….
While it’s interesting to know what people think, remember that questions about perceptions don’t tell you what’s actually going on, just what people think is going on!
Sources/ Find out More
You can find out more about the results from this YouGov survey here.
According to official statistics 19% of working aged adults, or one in five people self-report as being ‘disabled’, and this figure has been widely used in the media to promote pro-disability programming.
How do we Define Disability?
According to the formal, legal, UK definition under the 2010 Equality Act someone is disable if they ‘have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities’.
That 19% figure sounds like a lot of people, in fact it is a lot of people – that’s 13 million people in the United Kingdom.
But maybe it’s only a lot because when we think of ‘disability’ we tend to immediately think of people will physical and very visible disabilities, the classic image of a disable person being someone in a wheelchair, which the media generally doesn’t help with its over-reliance of wheelchair users to signify they are ‘representing the disabled’.
In fact there are ‘only’ 1.2 million wheelchair users in Britain, or less than one in ten people who classify as disabled.
How do we measure disability ?
The 19%, or one five figure comes from the UK’s Family Resources Survey, the latest published result coming from the 2018/19 round of surveys.
This is a pretty serious set of surveys in which respondents from 20 000 households answer questions for an hour, some related to disability.
The Questions which determined whether someone classifies as disable or not are as follows:
Have you had any long term negative health conditions in the last 12 months? If you respond yes, you move on to the next two questions:
Do any of these health conditions affect you in any of the following areas – listed here are the top answers: mobility/ stamina, breathing or fatigue/ mental health/ dexterity/ other
Final question: do any of your conditions or illness impact your ability to carry out your day to day activities -the responses here are on a 4 point likehert scale ranging from a not at all to a lot.
Anyone ticking YES/ YES and either ‘my illness affects me a lot or a little’ is classified by the UK government as disabled.
Validity problems with this way of measuring disability
The problem with the above is that if you have Asthma and similar mild conditions you could be classified as disabled, and this doesn’t tie in with the government’s own definition of disability which requires that someone has a condition which ‘substantially’ affects their ability to carry out every day tasks.
Stating that you have asthma which affects your breathing a little, does NOT IMO qualify you as disabled, but it does in this survey.
The government doesn’t publish the breakdown of responses to the final disability question, but it’s roughly a 50-50 split between those answering ‘a lot’ and ‘a little.
In conclusion, it might be more accurate to say that one in ten people is disabled.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This short update should be a useful contemporary example to illustrate some of the validity problems associated with using social surveys, especially for topics with a high degree of subjectivity such as what disability means!
NB – I gleaned the above information from Radio Four’s More or Less, the episode which aired on Weds 10th Feb 2021.
The polls clearly show that most people think Boris will be a strong leader, and a different type of leader to previous PMs, but not in a good way: most people don’t trust Boris and think he’s going to make a terrible Prime Minister….
Most people think he’ll be a different type of leader…
But almost 60% of people don’t trust Boris
One of the more creative questions was what Hogwarts House Boris Johnson would be in – no surprise that 42% of the population put him in Slytherin – which values ambition and cunning.
We need to treat these results with caution: the negative responses may be because of the lack of say most people have had over Boris being elected, or about the lack of any kind of progress over Brexit.
In other words, people may not be expressing their dissatisfaction with Boris in particular, but possibly at the whole of the inept political class in general!
Having said that, I’m not going to dismiss criticism of Boris: he is an Eton educated millionaire who seems to be prepared to lie and spin his way to the top, always putting his own personal ambition ahead of anything else.
This is a ‘new thread’ idea… posting up examples of naff research. I figure there are two advantages to this…
It’s useful for students to have good examples of naff research, to show them the meaning of ‘invalid data’ or ‘unrepresentative samples’, or in this case, just plain unreferenced material which may as well be ‘Fake News’.
At least I get some kind of pay back (in the form of the odd daily post) for having wasted my time wading through this drivel.
My first example is from The Independent, the ex-newspaper turned click-bait website.
12% of children under 6 spend more than 24 hours a week on their mobile
80% parents admit to not limiting the amount of time their children spend on games
Eventually it references a company called MusicMagpie (which is an online store) but fails to provide a link to the research, and provides no information at all about the sampling methods used or other details of the survey (i.e. the actual questions, or how it’s administered.). I dug around for a few minutes, but couldn’t find the original survey either.
The above figures just didn’t sound believable to me, and they don’t tie in with OFCOM’s 2017 findings which say that only 5% of 5-7 year olds and 1% of 3-4 year olds have their own mobiles.
As it stands, because of the simple fact that I can’t find details of the survey, these research findings from musicMagpie are totally invalid.
I’m actually quite suspicious that the two companies have colluded to generate some misleading click-bait statistics to drive people to their websites to increase advertising and sales revenue.
If you cannot validate your sources, then do not use the data!
The relationship between social class and religion is not straightforward: the middle classes are, in general, more likely to attend church, but they are also less likely to believe in God and more likely to be atheists and join both world affirming and world rejecting NRMs.
The working classes are less likely to attend church, yet more likely to believe in God than the middle classes. There are also certain denominations and even sects which might appeal specifically to the working classes: such as Methodism, for example.
Church attendance and social class
The ‘middle classes’ have higher rates of church attendance than the ‘working classes’
A 2015 YouGov survey of 7000 adults found that 62% of regular church goers were middle class and 38% working class.
The same 2015 survey found that twice as many married working class men had never attended church compared to middle class men (17% compared to 9%).
Voas and Watt (2014) conducted research on behalf of the Church of England and made three observations not directly about social class, but relevant to it. Firstly, church attendance is higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. Secondly, church attendance is higher in the South of England compared to the North. Thirdly, they noted growth in church attendance in areas which had high performing church primary and secondary schools. All of these indicators suggest higher church attendance in middle class compared to working class areas.
Ashworth and Farthing (2007) found that, for both sexes, those in middle class jobs had above average levels of church attendance. Conversely, those in skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled working class jobs had below average church attendance. Welfare recipients had the lowest levels of church attendance.
Religious belief and social class
A 2016 YouGov Survey revealed that 48% of those in social grades ABC1 described themselves as ‘Atheist’ compared to 42% of those in social grades C2ED.
A 2013 review of >60 research studies on the relationship between IQ and religiosity found that people with higher IQs are more likely to be atheists. (High IQs are correlated with higher levels of education and higher social class).
Lawes (2009) found that ‘lifelong theists’ disproportionately come from unskilled and semi-skilled manual backgrounds, and were less likely to have academic qualifications. Conversely, lifelong atheists disproportionately come from higher professional and managerial backgrounds, and are more likely to have experienced higher education.
NB – It’s worth noting how this contradicts what’s above in terms of church attendance
Social class, religion and deprivation
There is some evidence that those suffering deprivation (the lower social classes) are more likely to turn to religion…..
Churches in deprived inner city areas tend to have higher rates of attendance.
Methodist, Pentacostal and Baptist denominations tend to be more working class.
Catholic Churches are more likely to attract Irish, Polish and African immigrants who have typically experienced higher levels of deprivation.
New Religious Movements and social class
As a general rule, the middle classes are more attracted to both World Affirming NRMs (and the New Age Movement), and World Rejecting NRMs, at least according to Eileen Barker’s classic study of ‘The Moonies’.
Problems with identifying the relationship between religion and social class
Andrew Mckinnon notes that there has been a ‘dearth’ of research on the relationship between religion and social class, meaning there is something of a data gap.
Because of the above, we are often stuck with relying on indicators which might not actually measure social class.
Even if the data suggests that church attendance and belief are higher among the middle classes, this doesn’t necessarily mean the middle classes are actually more religious. They may just be attending church to keep up appearances or to get their children into the local church school (which tend to have high academic performance); or they may feel under more social pressure to state they are religious than the working classes
Chapman et al, as well as the good ole’ t’internet.
The concepts of ‘normal’, and ‘normality’, and the question of what counts as ‘normal behaviour’ has long been of interest to sociologists. Sociologists from different perspectives have very different approaches to answering the basic, but fundamental question, ‘what is normal’?
For the early positivists such as August Comte and Emile Durkheim, uncovering the existence of social norms (or typical patterns of behaviour) was central to their early positivist sociology. However, contemporary sociologists are more likely to question whether or not there is such a thing as ‘normal’ in our postmodern society.
Interest in the word ‘normal’ started to grow in line with early Positivist sociology, peaked during the ‘heyday’ of structuralist sociology in the 1940s-70s and has been in decline since the (contested) shift to postmodern society from the 1980s…
What is Normal?
‘Normal’can be defined as any behavior or condition which is usual, expected, typical, or conforms to a pre-existing standard.
‘Normal behaviour’ may be defined as any behaviour which conforms to social norms, which are the expected or typical patterns of human behaviour in any given society.
It follows that in order to establish what ‘normal’ behaviour is, sociologists firstly need to establish what social norms are present in any given society.
This is actually more difficult than it may sound, because social norms exist at ‘different levels’ of society (at least for those sociologists who actually believe social norms actually exist!)
Some social norms exist at the level of society as a whole, known as ‘societal level norms’, which tend to be very general norms, such as ‘obeying the law most of the time’ or ‘children being expected to not talk to strangers’.
Other norms are context-dependent, and are specific to certain institutions – for example the specific norms associated with sitting a formal examination within an educational setting, or those associated with a funeral. (In some respects the two examples are quite similar!)
Social norms can also vary from place to place, time of day, and different norms may be expected of people depending on their social characteristics: their age, or gender for example.
Given all of the above problems with establishing the existence of social norms, postmodern sociologists have suggested that we need to abandon the concept of normality all together, and just accept the fact that we live in a society of individuals, each of whom is unique.
However, many contemporary sociologists disagree with this postmodern view, given then fact that there do appear to be certain patterns of behaviour which the vast majority of people in society conform to.
The remainder of this post will consider a range of examples of behaviours which might reasonably be regarded as ‘normal’ in the context of contemporary British society….
How might sociologists ‘determine’ what is ‘normal’?
As far as I see it, there are a number of places sociologists can look, for example:
They can simply start out by making observations (possibly backed up by ‘mass observation’ data) of daily life, which will reveal certain General norms of behavior.
They can use statistical data to uncover ‘life events’ or actions that most people will engage in at some point during their ‘life-course’.
They can look at statistical averages.
They can look at attitude surveys and field experiments to find out about typical attitudes towards certain objects of attention and typical behaviours in specific contexts.
They can simply look at the most popular tastes and actions which the majority (or ‘largest minority’ of people engage in.
Below I discuss the first three of these…
Normal behaviour in daily life….?
Simple observations of daily life (backed up with a few basic surveys) reveal there are several social norms that the vast majority of the public conform to. For example:
Wearing clothes most of the time
Despite the fact that according to one survey as many as 1.2 million people in the UK define themselves as naturists (which is about as many as there are members of the Church of England), only 2% of people report that they would ‘get their kit off too’ if they came across a group of naked people playing cricket on a beach while on a coastal ramble’.
You probably don’t think about it very much, but nearly all of us do it – ignoring other people on public transport. So much so that if you type in ‘avoiding people on public transport’ to Google, then the first search return is actually a link to ‘how to do it‘… from ‘sitting by yourself and putting a bag on the seat next to you’ to (most obviously) using your mobile phone or eating something. There’s even advice on how to ‘disengage’ from conversation, just in case some deviant is socially unaware enough to talk to you.
The limitations of establishing ‘normality’ from such ordinary, everyday behaviours…
While most of us engage in such behaviours, is this actually significant? Do these ‘manifestations of similarity’ actually mean anything? Most of us brush our teeth, most of us ignore each other on public transport, most of us wear clothes, but so what?
All of these manifestations of ‘normality’ are quite passive, they don’t really involve much of a ‘buy in’, and there’s still scope for a whole lot of differences of greater significance to occur even with all of us doing all of these ‘basic’ activities in unison…
Life Course Norms…?
It’s probably not as simply as ‘normal life in the U.K.’ as equating to having a 9-5 job, a mortgage, a fuck off big television, walking the dog, paying taxes and having a pension….
But it possible to identify some ‘life-events’ that the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom (or at least England in some of the examples below) will experience at some points in their life. All of the examples below are take from across the A-level sociology syllabus…
Most children in the United Kingdom will go to school….
According to World Bank data, 98.9% of children in the United Kingdom are enrolled in school, so it’s reasonably fair to say that ‘it is normal for children in the UK to go to secondary school’.
NB – it’s probably worth pointing out that ‘secondary school enrollment is much more common in the UK compared to the United States, and especially Uruguay, and various other less economically developed countries.
Of course the fact that nearly 99% of children are enrolled in secondary school in the UK tells us nothing about their experience of education, or how long they actually spend in school, but nonetheless, being enrolled and being subjected to the expectation to attend secondary school in the UK is one of the most universal experiences through the life-course.
Most people in the U.k. will engage in paid work or live with someone who has engaged in paid work at some point in their lives
Only 0.8% of 16-64 year olds live in households where all members have never worked. These figures don’t actually tell us how many people have never worked, but we can say that 99.2% of the adult population has either worked, or is currently living with someone who has, at some point in their lives, worked.
Limitations of establishing ‘normal’ behaviour from these trends
The limitations of deriving an idea of ‘normality’ from life-course data is that you are much less likely to find norms across the generations rather than in one specific age-cohort. More-over, one of main reasons postmodernists argue that it is no longer appropriate to talk about social norms today is that there is a trend away from shared norms in many areas of social life and a movement towards greater diversity.
Social Norms based on statistical averages
A third method of determining what is ‘normal’ is to look at the ‘median’ value of a distribution, that is the value which lies at the midpoint.
In social statistics, it is very like that the median will provide a more representative average figure than the mean because a higher percentage of people will cluster around the median compared to the mean.
Median disposable household income in the UK in 2017 was £27,300
Limitations of establishing ‘normal behaviour’ from medians or means
Is the median the ‘best’ way of establishing ‘what is normal’? Even though it’s the figure around which most people cluster, there can still be enormous differences in those at both ends of the distribution.
As to the mean, as with the household average above…. this might be useful for establishing trends over time, but surely when we look at ‘today’, this is meaningless… there are no households with 2.4 people in!
So… is there such a thing as normal?
While it is possible to identify ‘norms’ using various methods, hopefully the above examples at least demonstrate why postmodernists are so sceptical about the concept of normality today!
I actually did two surveys this week with the students this week, both on Socrative.
For the first survey, I simply asked students via Socrative, who did most of the domestic work when they were a child (mostly mother or mostly father – full range of possible responses are in the results below), with ‘domestic work’ broken down into tasks such as cleaning, laundry, DIY etc…
For the second Survey, I got students to write down possible survey questions on post it notes, then I selected 7 of them to make a brief questionnaire which they then used as a basis for interviewing three couples about who did the housework.
Selected results from the initial student survey on parents’ housework
These results were based on students’ memory!
Selected results from the second survey
based on student interviews with couples
Discussion of the validity of the results…..
These two surveys on the domestic division of labour (and other things) provided a useful way into a discussion of the strengths and limitations of social surveys more generally….we touched on the following, among other things:
memory may limit validity in survey one
lack of possible options limits validity in survey two, also serves as an illustration of the imposition problem.
asking couples should act as a check on validity, because men can’t exaggerate if they are with their partner.
there are a few ethical problems with the ‘him’ and ‘her’ categories, which could be improved upon.
Postcript – on using student surveys to teach A-level sociology
All in all this is a great activity to do with students. It brings the research up to date, it gets them thinking about questionnaire design and, if you time it right, it even gets them out of the class room for half an hour, so you can just put yer feet up and chillax!
If you want to use the same surveys the links, which will allow you to modify as you see fit, are here:
‘Evaluate the Strengths of Using Social Surveys in Social Research’ (20)
This is an essay plan for a possible essay for the AQA’s A Level Sociology paper 3: Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods. This essay plan uses the TPEN structure which covers the theoretical, practical, ethical and ‘nature of topic’ factors relevant to this research method.
Theoretical Factors: Positivists/ Interpretivists – Positivists generally like social surveys because the data from Structured Social Surveys is easy to put into graphs and charts – it is easy to make comparisons, find trends and uncover the ‘laws’ of human action
Theoretical: Representativeness/ Sampling – It is generally easy to obtain large samples
Theoretical: Reliability – Surveys generally have good reliability because….
Theoretical: Validity – Validity should be good for simple topics and it is less likely that the researcher’s opinions will affect the research process as with more qualitative methods
Practical Factors: Social surveys are one of the cheapest methods for collecting data from a wide, geographically dispersed sample of the target population; they are generally one of the quickest ways of collecting data
Ethical Factors: There are few ethical issues with this method compared to more qualitative methods.
Nature of Topic: Social surveys are best used for simple, straightforward topics.
Conclusion: Social Surveys are good for gaining an ‘overview’ of social trends
A Likert* scale is a multiple-indicator or multiple-item measure of a set of attitudes relating to a particular area. The goal of a Likert scale is to measure intensity of feelings about the area in question.
A Likert scale about Likert scales!
In its most common format, the Likert scale consists of a statement (e.g. ‘I love Likert scales’) and then a range of ‘strength of feeling’ options which respondents choose from – in the above example, there are five such options ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.
Each respondents reply on each item is scored, typically with a high score (5 in the above example) being given for positive feelings and a low score (1 in the above example) for negative feelings.
Once all respondents have completed the questionnaire, the scores from all responses are aggregated to give an overall score, or ‘strength of feeling’ about the issue being measured.
Some examples of sociological research using Likert scales:
The World Values Survey is my favourite example – they use a simple four point scale to measure happiness. The poll below gives you the exact wording used in the survey…
The results on the web site (and below) show you the percentages who answer in each category, but I believe that the researchers also give scores to each response (4 to 1) and then do the same for similar questions, combine the scores and eventually come up with a happiness rating for a country out of 10. I think the USA scores around 7.2 or something like that, it might be more! Look it up if you’re interested….
Important points to remember about Likert scales
The items must be statements, not questions.
The items must all relate to the same object being measured (e.g. happiness, strength of religious belief)
The items that make up the scale should be interrelated so as to ensure internal reliability is strong.
*The Likert Scale is named after Rensis Likert, who developed the method.
Here’s a general plan of how I tend to revise each research method with my students, for A level sociology, focussing on social surveys revision.
The link above is to the section of the revision hand-out I use (working through it should take about an hour).
I use very similar looking material, and pretty much the same structure (with slight modifications) for all the other research methods.
As far as I’m concerned the important tasks are in bold, the rest is just fluff to get students’ attention/ deal with those who have short attention spans.
Q/A starter 1 – provide an example of the results of a social survey – what does it tell us and what are the limitations….? I quite like to introduce something new here.
PPT starter 2 – Recap the key terms and examples of social surveys – I quickly PPT over the basics of social surveys – just the definition and examples (the ones the students haven’t managed to remember themselves!)
Individual task – Basic true/ false grid (statements to do with social surveys). Sometimes I’ll make this into a Kahoot or a Socrative task
Student task – Strengths and limitations evaluation grids – students can basically use the answers from the true false grids – getting them to evaluate the strengths and limitations pushes them a bit further. For some topics, I’ll make this a cut and paste sentence sort.
Teacher feedback – I give selected examples of how, for example, random sampling might undermine the representativeness (usually a strength) of a survey.
Q/A – Applying social surveys to researching topics in education – students select on of 8-10 key research methods topics we look at and plan and develop their thoughts on how they might use surveys to research that topic
Student task – exam SAQ or essay practice – it is what it is, exam practice, which I may or may not mark! For some topics this will be a marking exercise.
It’s pretty dry, but then again it’s revision – enough fun and games already, let the exam fear commence…
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