We don't have to wait for the results of the Government's census to understand how Britain is changing. Every day, we are given new insights into our culture, practices and aspirations through surveys conducted by commercial interests on our behalf and reported faithfully by the newspapers. They may not be as reliable as official figures, but in their own way, they provide a little illumination. So, on the day that we found out, through the census of England and Wales conducted in 2011, that there has been a 12 per cent fall in the number professing to be Christians, we also discover the (admittedly less significant) news that women over the age of 45 most admire those who grow old gracefully. Heavy make-up, miniskirts, fake tans, leather trousers, bleached hair and other glamorous accoutrements, they say, are unseemly for women once they're the other side of 40.
And what else did we discover yesterday? Well, on top of the fact that home ownership is down in England and Wales (courtesy of the Census results), we also learned that £1.8m is the average sum Britons consider they would need as a windfall to have a life-changing effect. However, the most surprising findings in this survey, conducted by Legal & General, are the regional variations. For instance, the good people of Yorkshire and Humberside feel they'd need a whopping £2.5m to change their lives, while in Wales the figure drops to a measly £880,000. This must mean something beyond the cost of living, but aspirations can't be that much lower in Pontypridd than they are in Pontefract.
Back to the census and we find out that married people are no longer the absolute majority in England and Wales. Meanwhile, a poll conducted by a parenting website says that children are being denied the chance to learn valuable life skills because of the decline in the popularity of board games. Competing at Monopoly, for instance, teaches children about taking turns and helps them to develop a modicum of patience, say the parents surveyed. Blimey. They must be playing a different game from the one I remember, which taught me all I need to know about acquisitiveness, double-dealing, speculation and triumphalism.
Elsewhere from the frontiers of knowledge yesterday, a private health company reveals something that possibly has more day-to-day significance for most people: going to the gym may be bad for your health because of the bad etiquette of fitness enthusiasts. So wipe down those sweaty machines! Less surprising was the revelation from American research that children who have a television in their bedroom are more likely to have a propensity to obesity and the earth-shattering news, according to a Debenhams survey, that women spend three times longer getting ready for an evening out at Christmas than at other times of the year – a full hour as opposed to 20 minutes.
What with the census, the self-serving surveys and the cock-and-bull research, we know more about each other, our lives and our country than we ever thought possible. You may say it doesn't add up to much.
But in the modern world, understanding – not knowledge – is power.