The Demographics of a Nation: Australia and the Church

This article from NCLS Research presents a summary of Australian population, age, marital status, education, country of birth and religion. The Australian population is compared with church attenders using data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the 2006 National Church Life Survey.

Australia’s population is growing, and the rate of growth has been increasing in recent years. In the 2006 Census the Australian Bureau of Statistics counted 19.9 million people in Australia, marking a 4.7 per cent increase since 2001. It has been estimated that at the end of 2009, the population had grown to 22.2 million people, showing an increase in the growth rate of population since 2006. Australian population growth is occurring mostly in the cities. The main reason for this growth rate increase has been growth in immigration. Net overseas migration contributes to nearly two-thirds of national population growth in Australia.

The age structure of Australia has changed dramatically over recent decades. In 1971 the mean age was 27.0 years. By 2009 it had increased to 37.9 years. A key reason for this aging population is greater life expectancy. Australian churches overall have a significantly lower proportion of younger people than is found in the Australian population, with the mean age of all adult church attenders being 53.4 years.

Marriage rates have been decreasing in Australia since the early 1970’s. However in recent years it has reached a plateau. On the other hand de facto relationships and cohabitation before marriage has seen a steady increase. In 2008, 78 per cent of couples lived together before marriage, up from 16 per cent in 1975. The divorce rate in Australia has remained relatively steady in the last 30 years declining slightly in recent years. In 2008 the rate was 2.2 divorces per 1,000 population. Marriages that do end in divorce are currently lasting longer than previously recorded.

Australia is becoming increasingly educated and the gender gap in education is narrowing. Each successive generation is more likely than the last to have completed school, and to have a tertiary qualification, with Generation X and Y being the most highly educated generations on record.

The proportion of Australians in 2006 who were affiliated with a Christian religion was 64 per cent. Affiliation to many Christian denominations has declined recently. This decline was particularly seen amongst the Anglican, Uniting, Presbyterian/Reformed, and Churches of Christ denominations. The Catholic Church, while decreasing slightly, has not experienced the same decline in affiliation that some other mainstream denominations have experienced.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 1, Pages 15-16

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