Skip to content

New research identifies growing Bible illiteracy among children in UK

Most parents want their children to engage with the Bible but 59% of children do not know David and Goliath as a Bible story ...

Could this be the ‘writing on the wall’ for classic Bible stories?

Majority of parents think it is important for their children to engage with the Bible, but in practice 59% of children did not identify David and Goliath as a Bible story, and 29% of children didn’t identify The Nativity as a Bible story.
A nationwide study published today (7 February 2014) reveals a growing generation gap in Bible literacy in Britain.
The YouGov research was released in a report by Bible Society to launch Pass It On, a campaign calling on parents to keep the Bible alive for future generations by passing on a Bible story to their children.
The findings show, for children aged 8 to 15 and parents with children aged 3 to 16:
Parents believe Bible stories are important; and children want to hear more

  • Despite declining readership, 43% of parents surveyed think it is important for their child to have read, seen or heard Bible stories because they provide values for a good life. Similarly, 40% think they are important to our history and culture and a third (36%) say they are classic stories that stand the test of time. Just 12% of parents surveyed believed that was it was not important for children to read, see or hear Bible stories
  • More than a quarter of all children (28%) also say that they would like to read, hear or see more Bible stories, peaking around the ages of 8 and 9 where it rises to 40% and 41% respectively
  • Encouragingly, half (49%) of primary school children describe Bible stories as interesting, while almost 1 in 3 (31%) of those in secondary school feel the same. Even by 14 and 15, the proportion of children that think Bible stories are interesting is 35% and 27% respectively

Around half of children never read or are read Bible stories, in contrast to their parents

  • Over half of children polled (54%) never or less than once a year read Bible stories at school or home. Similarly 45% of parents with children aged 3 to 8 never read Bible stories to their child
  • By contrast, around 9 in 10 parents (86%) read, listened to or watched Bible stories when they were growing up

Religion isn’t always a factor

  • Almost a third (30%) of Christian parents say they never read Bible stories to their child
  • By comparison, 1 in 10 non-Christian parents with children aged 3 to 8 read Bible stories to their child daily, rising to 12% for those that do not associate with any religion

Children today fail to identify Bible stories from fables, fairy tales and Greek myths

  • Polled just a few weeks after Christmas, almost one in three children (29%) did not identify The Nativity as a story from the Bible, including 35% of 15 year olds; this rises to 36% for The Good Samaritan, 41% for Samson and Delilah and well over half, 59%, for David and Goliath and Jonah and The Whale
  • Even for some of the best known Bible stories, 1 in 5 (20%) did not select Noah’s Ark as a Bible story, while a similar proportion (19%) did not choose Adam & Eve
  • By contrast 1 in 10 (9%) believe that King Midas and Icarus appear in the Bible.

Many children have not read, seen or heard classic Bible stories       

  • A quarter of children (23%) indicate they have never read seen or heard Noah’s Ark or The Nativity (25%), rising to 38% for Adam and Eve and 43% for The Crucifixion
  • More than half indicate they have never read, seen or heard Joseph and his coat of many colours (54%), Moses parting the Red Sea (56%) and David & Goliath (57%)
  • The proportion rises to 61% for The Feeding of the 5,000 and The Good Samaritan, 63% for the Creation story, three quarters (72%) for Daniel in the lion’s den and 85% for the story of Solomon
  • Parents endorse these findings, with only 17% stating that they thought their child had read, seen or heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, 22% for David and Goliath, 31% for Adam & Eve and a higher, but still less than half, 47% for Noah’s Ark

Even among adults, there is a notable decline in Bible readership through the ages

  • Two thirds of parents (63%) read, listened to or watched Bible stories in school. But this varies from 56% of 25 to 34 year olds, rising steadily across the ages to 79% of those aged 55 or over
  • Similarly, for those that think it’s appropriate for children to learn Bible stories, only half (50%) of 25 to 34 year olds think it’s appropriate for teachers to read them to their child; rising to 61% of 35 to 44 year olds, 79% of 45 to 54 year olds and 83% of those aged 55 or over 

Bible literacy is part of a much bigger battle to keep children engaged with reading

  • While 40% of parents with children aged 3 to 8 read stories to them daily, 1 in 7 (14%) never do, whether Bible related or otherwise. Just over a third (34%) do so less than once a week
  • Around 1 in 10 children (8%) say they have never been read a story by their parents, grandparents or other family members and nearly a third (31%) read stories by themselves less than once a month or never
  • The proportion of children that read stories every day almost halves between primary and secondary school, from 42% to 22% respectively. By age 15, only 13% do so compared with over half of 8 year olds (52%) and a third (32%) of children overall

Today’s report is published as part of Bible Society’s 2014 Pass It On campaign. The campaign is designed to encourage parents to pass on classic Bible stories such as David and Goliath to the next generation.
Sir Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate (1999-2009) says that these statistics are becoming a disturbing reality. He adds that many of Britain’s brightest students no longer know the story of Adam and Eve – making it difficult for academics to teach crucial literary and historical texts.
Commenting on the publication of the report, Sir Andrew said: “It's essential for us to keep these stories alive, regardless of our religious beliefs (or lack of them); they are indispensable to our understanding of the past, and to the enrichment of our present.”
Speaking about the campaign, James Catford, Group Chief Executive of Bible Society said: “Our research indicates that the Bible’s brilliant and engaging stories could be lost to future generations unless people take action.
“It’s clear that parents want to give their children the best start in life. The Bible’s contribution to our culture – language, literature, the visual arts and music – is immense. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. The Bible enriches life, and every child should have the opportunity to experience it.
“If we don't use the Bible, we risk losing it. We're calling on parents to pass it on."

+ The Bible can be found in more than half of homes in England and Wales
+ Approximately 100 million Bibles are sold worldwide every year
+ There are an estimated 475 complete Bible translations across the world
+ BBC show QI claims the Bible is the most shoplifted book in the US

All figures unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size: Adults sample size was 5,783 adults of which 1,091 were parents of 3 to 16 year olds. Fieldwork was undertaken between 10-14 January 2014.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
Children sample size was 804 children. Fieldwork was undertaken between 10-13 January 2014.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB children (aged 8 to 15).

Get more inspiring reading

To find back issues of the INSPIRE mini-mag - seasonal and themed issues - go to