The Missing 1.8 Million

In the September 2012 Pointers, it was recorded that the number of Australians identifying with a Christian denomination had increased from 12.76 million to 13.15 million between 2001 and 2011. December 2012 Pointers noted that during that period, 766,758 migrants had arrived in Australia who identified with a Christian denomination in that same decade. With these migrants, there should be at least 13.5 million Christians in Australia instead of 13.15 million. The figures do not add up: there are some people missing.

There are three reasons why people may be ‘missing’. The first is that they have died. Those who 75 years of age or older in 2001 would be 85 years of age or older in 2011. As shown in Table 1, 587,923 people were missing from this cohort. It is likely that most of these people have died. Indeed, younger cohorts would also include a few people who had died.

A second reason people may be ‘missing’ is that they were overseas when the Census was taken. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in the financial year 2011 to 2012, Australians made more than 8 million short-term overseas trips (ABS 2012c). The average period for these trips was two weeks. This would mean that approximately 309,000 persons were ‘missing’ overseas at the time of the Census. The number of overseas trips made by Australians has increased considerably since 2001 when just 3.4 million trips were made. Thus, the difference between the numbers of Australians overseas on short trips in 2001 and in 2011 is approximately 180,000 people. The Christian portion of this number would 110,000.

The numbers who ticked the ‘no religion’ box on the Census increased from 2.9 million to 4.8 million between 2001 and 2011. Part of this increase was due to the number of births. With many younger people and few older people describing themselves as ‘no religion’, the number of births far exceeded the number of deaths: 792,141 births compared with an estimated 38,000 deaths. Apart from births and immigration and people who had previously not answered the question about religion, the ‘no religion’ numbers increased as a result of people who had previously identified with a Christian denomination or other religious group changing their identification. It is estimated that at least 525,000 people who had identified with a Christian denomination in 2001 ticked the ‘no religion’ box in the 2011 Census.

The major reason for the change in identification is that religion is simply seen as irrelevant to life (Hughes 2012a). For many young people, the issue of identification with a religious organisation does not arise. They live well without reference to it. While older people often feel some attachment to religious labels, even if they rarely, if ever, attend religious services or engage in other religious activities, young people place comparatively little value on that heritage. Finding ways of engaging young people with the Christian faith is a major challenge for Christian organisations.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 23, No. 1, Pages 1-4

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