An Examination of the Evidence on Sectarianism in Scotland

This is a review of existing research and survey data on sectarianism in Scotland.


One other measure of the extent to which a country is divided on ethnic or religious grounds is to explore the extent of intermarriage between particular groups. (The extent to which couples are formed from members of the same groups has been widely used in studies of ethnic segregation.) In a research paper published in 2010, Holligan and Raab77 therefore use the 2001 Census data to explore intermarriage between Christian groups in Scotland. Using a sample of anonymised census records they were able to sample approximately 10% of all couples enumerated in the 2001 Census. The analysis was restricted to male/female couples aged 16 to 75, both born in Scotland, for whom complete data on the religion in which they were raised was available. It excluded the small number of Scottish born couples where one or more member was raised in a non-Christian religion. This left a total sample size of 111,627 couples.

Looking at the percentages of females of each group forming couples with males of each other group, Holligan and Raab show that, of the Roman Catholic females, 45% were in homogomous78 couples but the percentage in partnerships with a Protestant partner was almost the same (43%). The largest rate of homogamy (79%) was for females affiliated to the Church of Scotland. Only 12% of Church of Scotland females were in partnership with a Catholic partner. However, the researchers point out that the high rate of homogamy among those of the Church of Scotland was largely due to them being the largest group within the sample of couples. Recognising that a person from a small group would have only a small number of potential partners from the same group, they use an 'index of homogamy' that compares the numbers of couples where the partners come from the same religious group, to that which would be expected if couple formation in the population was completely random. Looking then at these homogamy coefficients, which adjust for the proportions in the population, it was Catholics that were shown to have the least propensity to form partnerships with those of other religions (compared with those of the Church of Scotland, other Christians and those with no religious affiliation).

The researchers also found that there was a very steep decline in the percentages of same religion couples among younger couples for all Christian groups. The steepest decline being among those females aged 50-59 in 2001, most of whom will have formed partnerships in the 1970s. Similar patterns are seen in all areas of Scotland, but the higher proportion of Roman Catholics in the West of Scotland lead to a much higher proportion of inter-faith couples there. They also point out that because a high proportion of Catholics continue their religious practice, even when part of a religiously mixed couple, this may mean that many people in the West of Scotland will have practising Catholics who are part of their extended family. This, they argue, should contribute to an erosion of any sectarian divisions in Scotland79.


Email: Ben Cavanagh

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