The Persistence Of Religion: What The Census Tells Us

When the 2011 Australian Census figures were first released on 21st June 2012, the percentage of Australians ticking the ‘no religion’ box made headlines. Newsreporters noted how Australia had become more secular. On talk-back radio, people either celebrated or lamented the increased numbers of atheists in Australia. However, the real story of the Census is somewhat different: it is a story of the persistence of religion.
Between 1971 and 2011, the population of Australia has grown from around 13 million to more than 21 million people. At the same time, the number of Christians identifying with a Christian denomination has grown from 11 to 13 million. One of the big factors in the growth in the population has been the flow of immigrants into Australia. Increasingly, those migrants have been people from Asia rather than Europe. Their influx has led to a large increase in people of other religions, from less than half a million people to more than 1.5 million.

Over the past decade, the total number of Australians identifying with a religion has risen from 13.7 million to 14.7 million in 2011. However, the population has grown faster than this, which means that the total proportion of Australians identifying with a religion has declined a little. Between 2001 and 2006, there was a decline of 3.3 per cent in the proportions of Australians identifying with a religion. Between 2006 and 2011, that change was just 1.2 percentage points (a decline from 69.5 per to 68.3 per cent of Australians). In an age in which there is increasing realisation among people that they can choose whether to identify with a religion, the large majority (almost 70 per cent) of Australians continue to make that identification and this is just 1.2 percentage points less than in 2006. The imminent demise of religion has been very much exaggerated.

For the full story of religion in the Census, see Pointers Volume 22-3.

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