Belief Among Catholic Secondary Students: 2005 and 2011 Comparisons

A recent Pointers article (Hughes, 2011) discussed the widespread decline in the religiosity of young people in various countries, including Australia. In many countries there is evidence to suggest that there has been an increase in secularisation in society, and certainly in Australia, change in the nature of religion and spirituality. Examination of two large ‘matched’ samples of students from different points of time may shed some light on more general cultural changes.

Having undertaken surveys of more than 4,100 students in 30 Catholic schools in four dioceses in 2011, the Christian Research Association can compare the most recent data to data from surveys conducted among a similar number of students between 2005 and 2008. With two different cohorts of students, we can investigate changes in student’s attitudes and beliefs. Is interest in religion really declining among students today? Are changes in beliefs affecting their private and public religious practices? Do changes in beliefs affect satisfaction in life and sense of purpose?

For the majority of students life is about enjoyment and making the best of it. This attitude of 86 per cent of students has not changed since 2005. However, around 15 per cent of students are ‘hurting deep inside’ and struggling to find where to get help (a slight drop from 17 per cent in 2005). Many students are happy with their lives even though, for some, life lacks a sense of purpose. In the 2011 surveys, students indicated greater confidence in what they believed than did students in 2005. Just under one third of students (30%) said they found it hard to know what to believe about life compared with 44 per cent of students in 2005.

In 2011, when asked about their belief in God, there were only slight changes: 38 per cent of students stated that “there is a God who is a personal being involved in the lives of people today”, compared with 40 per cent in 2005. In the 2005 surveys, 9 per cent of students did not think there was any sort of God, compared with 10 per cent in 2011. However, among Australian students born of Australian parents, belief in a personal God dropped from 37 per cent to 34 per cent between 2005 and 2011.

In 2011, fewer students (25%) said they were attending church services monthly or more often, compared to students in 2005 (30%). However, there was also a decline in the proportion of students who never attended: from 41 per cent in 2005 to 37 per cent in 2005. The increase has been in occasional attendance (39 per cent in 2011 compared with 29 per cent in 2005, as shown in Table 1).

Students are now more inclined to question the authority of the church. In 2005, 24 per cent said it was generally or definitely wrong to question church authority, and by 2011, around 17 per cent said that it was wrong. However, there was only a slight change in the affirmation of the statement ‘I think we should just believe and not question our beliefs’ (26 per cent in 2005 and 25 per cent in 2011). While there are some significant differences between young people from the two rounds of surveys, the latest results suggest that students continue to construct their own beliefs and spirituality for life without necessarily adhering to the teachings of the Church or school.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 1, Pages 9-12

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