The YouGov Death Study: The meaning of life

Milan DinicResearch Manager
October 06, 2021, 1:52 PM UTC

Does life have meaning?

The YouGov Death Study shows that six in ten (59%) of Britons think life has a meaning, but a quarter (26%) say it does not.

Overall, men (34%) are about twice as likely than women (18%) to say that life has no meaning, although this gender difference is not present among the youngest Britons (31% of 16-29 year old men and 29% of women the same age).

Overall three in ten people (30%) aged 16-39 see no meaning in life, and this goes down to one in five (19%) among those aged 60 and older.

Among Britons who are religious and actively practice their faith, 87% think life has a meaning, but 6% say it does not. The view that life has no meaning goes up to 15% among religious Brits who don’t practice, and to four in ten (39%) among Britons who are not religious, while 45% of them think that it does.

How much does thinking about whether life has a meaning occupy Britons’ minds? For 15%, the answer is never. But 9% say they think about the meaning of life at least once a day, and a further 14% say a few times a week. Those aged 16-24 (31%) are more likely than older age groups (21-23%) to think about the meaning of life on at least a weekly basis.

Britons who practice their religion (45%) are twice as likely as those not practicing their religion (20%), and three times as likely as those who are not religious (16%), to say they think about the meaning of life several times a week.

Have Britons lived a meaningful life?

When asked directly if they think they have lived a meaningful life, six in ten (59%) Britons responded affirmatively, while (23%) said they had not.

While 73% of all Britons in the over-60s say they have had a meaningful life, younger age groups are less sure.

In the 16-24 age group, more men (48%) than women (41%) think they’ve lived a meaningful life. However, men between the ages of 25 and 59 (46-51%) are less likely than women in corresponding age groups (57-65%) to say their life has been meaningful.

Three quarters (77%) of those who are practicing their religion think they have lived a meaningful life, compared to 61% of those who aren’t practicing their religion and 53% of people who are not religious.

One in eight (13%) of those who say they practice their religion think they have not lived a meaningful life. The percentage doubles among those who are not practicing their religion (24%) or are not religious (27%).

Is life predetermined or do humans have free will?

A third of Britons (32%) think life is predetermined. This is made of 9% who think a person’s path in life is predetermined and can’t be changed, and 23% think that it can. Over half (56%) of Britons think life is not predetermined.

The belief in predestination of life is held by notably more British women (38%) than men (26%).

As many as 45% of those who are practicing their religion, and 27% of those who belong to a particular religion but are not practicing it, say that a person’s path in life is predetermined but that it can be changed. Another 16% of practicing believers believe that predestination can’t be changed, and this applies to 11% of those who are not practicing their religion.

By contrast, 72% of Britons who are not religious in any way state that the course of life is not predetermined. This view is shared by 29% of practicing believers, and 48% of non-practicing religious Britons.

See the full results here