A century ago nearly everyone in Australia was Christian, today only 64% are. We know this thanks to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) which yesterday released the Year Book 2008, based on 2006 census figures.

Today the Sydney Morning Herald had an article on this which highlighted the increase in the percentage of people who stated they had no religion or declined to respond.

The following table shows the religious affiliation as a percentage of the population (rounded out).

Religion 1901 1971 2006
Catholic 23 27 26
Anglicans 40 31 19
Other C 34 28 19
Total C 97% 86% 64%
None 0.5 6.5 18
None Stated 1 6.5 12
Total None 1.5% 13% 30%
Other R 1.5 1 6

Other C – Other Christian religions
Other R – Other religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam)

Note: 1971 was the year the instruction ‘if no religion, write none’ was introduced.

In the 2006 census approximately 10% did not provide an answer, which I have to assume makes up 10 of the 12% in the None Stated category?

This is a copy of the question as it appeared in the 2006 census:

I have a few problems with this question, in that some non-religious people may mark other and enter humanism (as per example), or some other non-religious title. This may then get marked as the person being religious. I don’t like how the question assumes you are religious, and I also don’t like how several religions are highlighted, even though they may be predominant ones.

Would this question be better if it was worded:

19 Are you religious?



19a If Yes please enter religion in the boxes provided.


I prefer this method as it makes the person think, it’s so much easier just to tick a box. If people actually have to think what religion they are supposed to be, some of them might realise they aren’t actually religious,

Might this encourage more people to answer No to the question? Would people who were born into a specific religion but who are not actually religious be more prone to answering No?

What do you think?

The next census is in 2011 and we have until 31 March 2008 to submit suggestions or recommendations.

Should we atheists/agnostics/freethinkers/humanists/secularists band together and submit a revised religious question to the ABS for the next census? I strongly believe that the more people realise how many non-religious people are out there the more we will be taken seriously and religious views will have less impact on government decisions.

I know I don’t get a huge readership so please spread this blog around. I’ll be hitting up Australian atheist sites, forums and blogs over the next few weeks to see if we can get some action with this, so please assist.

I’d be happy to do the work and submit the idea to the ABS if sufficient feedback warranted it. Alternatively some of the atheist, humanist and secular societies might want to take this submission process on?

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15 Comments to “Christianity – a declining population.”

  1. arthurvandelay says:

    What do you think?

    It would be difficult to predict how a person who claims to be a follower of Jesus, but not religion, would answer your question.

  2. ozatheist says:

    I have just been informed by Protium that the Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) are already onto this and are in discussions with the ABS and various secular groups around Australia. I’ll see if I can get a copy of their proposal.

    Meanwhile, I’m still interested in your opinions and what sort of question you’d like to see.

  3. wineymomma says:

    I’m going to be hones here. I think arthur may have hit the nail on the head for me. I often feel like I am the least religious person in my church and circle. I believe (agree to disagree point coming up) in God and Jesus but I don’t believe it is necessary to jump through the man made hoops created by religion.

    If there were a spirituality box to check I think I might fit better into that category. I’m not sure.

  4. edtajchman says:

    Speaking from an American standpoint, in the U.S. evangelical-ism has run rampant. They organize politically to try and get their agenda made into law. Not only does this violate seperation of church and state has set out by our founders, but goes against, Jesus’s – ‘give to Ceaser what is Ceaser, and to God what is God’s.’ They try to take away abortion rights, and in every country that has anti-abortion laws, the rates of abortion actually go up along with related deaths. I have even seen a video in extreme cases where they prayed to a cardboard cutout of Bush. Also having been raised Catholic, I have seen first hand the hypocrisy that can happen in church, and we all know about the almost 1 billion dollars paid to families who were molestation victims of the U.S. branch of Catholicism. The Christian story is just too outdated, no one wants to hear about letters from the Romans to whoever,…. ….That’s where things like the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” come in, the story needs to be re-engaged for a new era.

  5. JohnDemetriou says:

    Very interesting blog!

    Nice article too – good stats


  6. arthurvandelay says:

    I have even seen a video in extreme cases where they prayed to a cardboard cutout of Bush.

    You mean this video?

  7. axl409 says:

    Atheism is rising, in fact it is now, at least in the US alone the biggest minority group. The belief in a god, religios or mythologocal (arent they the same really?) has always come and gone, humans used to worship all kinds of gods which are now considered ancient history, part of mythology which is deemed nothing but fairytales. The same can be said with the current religions that exist, maybe not so much the religion itself but the actual belief in a higher power. It’s the same thing and with atheism becoming bigger and bigger, it seems the current gods people worship now will also become a distant memory. The scary thing is what gods will people believe in next? or will people finally realize that the universe doesnt revolve around planet earth?

  8. Cricket tragic says:

    Suggestions for the census question:

    Do you practice a religion? If so, which one?

    Do you believe in a sky-god? If so, which one?

    Are you an atheist? If not, why not?

  9. arthurvandelay says:


  10. edtajchman says:

    yah that video,… “Jesus Camp”, it’s not a knock on Christianity, just exposing what are some extremely strange evangelical ways of preaching.

  11. [...] busy working on my submission to the ABS re the religion question in Census 2011. See post Christianity – a declining population. I’ll post a copy of my submission once it’s [...]

  12. [...] 2011 – Religious Affiliation As discussed the other day, on my Christianity – a declining population blog, the last census showed 18% to 30% of the Australian population were non-religious. I [...]

  13. Peregrinus says:

    But I don’t think the government is interested for census purposes in knowing what people believe. Rather, it wants to know whether they identify with a particular religious community. As you restate the question, you are seeking to exclude identification other than on the basis of belief or practice but that, ironically, is a very Protestant position. A Jew, for example, is a Jew by descent and inheritance, and whether he is a “good Jew”, in Jewish terms, depends on whether he observes the Law. But, even if he doesn’t observe the Law at all, and sees no value in doing so, and considers himself to be not religious, he may still identify as Jew, and observant Jews will affirm that he is right to do so. What he actually believes hardly enters into the matter at all. And while Jews are perhaps the obvious case, there are other religious groups with ethnic affiliations, and groups which do not lay the same stress on faith and/or participation in communal worship as the determinant of membership as Protestants have tended to do.

    In short, who are you, or who am I, or who is the ABS, to decide on what criteria he can properly identify himself as Jew? The fact that he identifies as a Jew (or a Catholic, or a Muslim, or a Lutheran, or whatever) is of interest and relevance for census purpose. “Rigging” the question to exclude those who identify for you consider to be the “wrong” reasons is not the business of the ABS.

  14. [...] Does the Australian census overestimate religiosity? See also: Christianity – a declining population. [...]

  15. [...] [2] See also my previous post: Christianity – a declining population [...]

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