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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2004  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/06/2004   
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Contents >> Other Areas of Concern >> Religious affiliation and activity

Religious affiliation and activity

In 2001, 74% of Australians aged 18 years and over reported affiliating with a religion. In the following year, 23% reported participating in church or religious activities over a three month period.

Affiliating with a religion and participating in its group activities is one of the ways by which people develop social networks and bind into communities. Religious beliefs and values may also influence people's behaviour and decisions in many areas of life. For example, they may motivate people to perform unpaid voluntary work, which complements government funded services. Consequently, as well as reflecting shifts in the nature and cultural foundations of Australian society, changes in religious affiliation and activity may have implications for both the level of civic engagement and the provision of community services in Australia.

TRENDS IN RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION

The proportion of all Australians stating an affiliation to some type of religion remained relatively stable from 1933 until 1971, at slightly less than 90%. This proportion dropped to 80% in 1976, then slowly declined to 73% in 2001. This gradual fall occurred against a backdrop of change in social values and attitudes, particularly since the late 1960s, and an increased secularisation of society in the last three decades of the 20th century. It was accompanied by a rising tendency among all Australians to state that they did not affiliate with any religion - particularly evident since the 1970s (7% in 1971 and 16% in 2001).



RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION OF AUSTRALIANS OF ALL AGES
GRAPH - RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION OF AUSTRALIANS OF ALL AGES

CONCEPTS AND DATA COLLECTION

Religious affiliation is the set of religious beliefs and practices to which a person adheres or the religious group to which a person belongs.

Religious affiliation data presented in this article were collected in various Censuses of Population and Housing, the most recent of which was conducted in 2001. In each census, the religious affiliation of a proportion of the population is not known if the question was not answered or the description was inadequate on the census form. This proportion has varied from census to census, and this variation needs to be taken into account when comparing census religious affiliation data. From a peak of 13% in 1933, the proportion has been as low as 6% in 1971, and as high as 12% in 1986 and 2001.

In this article, affiliates to any given religion represent people whose affiliation to that religion was adequately reported on the census form, and is likely to be less than the actual number of affiliates. In addition to varying from census to census, the extent of undercounting may be greater for some religious groups (including people with no religion) than others.

Religious organisations administer religious services and rituals or promote religious beliefs as their primary focus.

Data presented in this article on participation in church or religious activities are from the ABS 2002 General Social Survey, conducted between March and July and are limited to people aged 18 years and over. Data on unpaid voluntary work have also been sourced from this survey, as well as from the ABS 2000 Survey of Voluntary Work.


AFFILIATION OF AUSTRALIANS OF ALL AGES TO MAJOR NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS
GRAPH - AFFILIATION OF AUSTRALIANS OF ALL AGES TO MAJOR NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS

Showing a similar pattern of stability followed by change, the distribution of affiliation across religions and Christian denominations remained relatively stable during the 1930s and early 1940s, but began to change considerably following the end of the second world war. In particular, migration from continental Europe gradually increased the proportion of all Australians affiliating with Catholicism. More recently, immigration from Asia and the Middle East helped increase the proportion of all Australians affiliating with a non-Christian religion.

Between 1971 and 2001, the proportion of all Australians affiliating with Christianity fell from 86% to 68%, while those affiliating with a non-Christian religion increased from 1% to 5%. Some non-Christian religions grew more rapidly than others over this period. Whereas the number of Australians of all ages affiliating with Judaism increased modestly between 1971 and 2001, affiliation with Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism increased more markedly.

FACTORS INFLUENCING CHANGE

Growth in the numbers and proportions of Australians of all ages affiliating with Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism are largely due to changes in the countries of origin of recent immigrants (see
Australian Social Trends 2001, Coming to Australia, pp.16-20). Of all people affiliating with Hinduism in 2001, 82% had been born overseas, with 34% born in India and 11% in Sri Lanka. Similarly, nearly three-quarters of all those affiliating with Buddhism had been born overseas - 26% in Viet Nam and 8% in China. Of Australians of all ages affiliating with Islam in 2001, 62% were overseas born, with almost 11% born in Lebanon and 9% in Turkey.

Partnering and parenting patterns are also likely to have contributed to the increase in affiliation to Islam in Australia between 1971 (22,300) and 2001 (281,600). Based on ABS 2001 Census data, recently arrived overseas born Muslims were slightly younger when they migrated to Australia than were other immigrants, and Australian Muslims in general marry at a relatively young age and have a relatively high fertility rate.(SEE ENDNOTE 1)

There was a clear increase in an affiliation to Buddhism, particularly between 1996 (199,800) and 2001 (357,800). This may be due in part to the globalisation of religious ideas and practices.(SEE ENDNOTE 2)

DEMOGRAPHIC DIFFERENCES

In 2001, 74% of Australian adults (i.e. aged 18 years or over) affiliated with a religion, and 70% affiliated with Christianity. However, these rates of affiliation varied between men and women, and between age groups. Women were more likely to affiliate with a religion (and with Christianity) than were men of the same age group, although with increased age both men and women were more likely to affiliate with a religion (and with Christianity).


Among young adults aged 18-24 years, 69% of women affiliated with a religion (62% with Christianity) compared with 65% of men (59% with Christianity). Affiliation rates among older Australians aged 65 years and over were all higher than this. Of older women, 86% affiliated with a religion (84% with Christianity), while 82% of older men affiliated with a religion (80% with Christianity). This increase with age may be due partly to personal change associated with growing older, and partly to generational change.(SEE ENDNOTE 3)


AGE/SEX AFFILIATION RATES - 2001
GRAPH - AGE/SEX AFFILIATION RATES - 2001

Also in 2001, 68% of males aged less than 18 years were reported as affiliating with a religion (62% with Christianity). Rates were only slightly higher among females aged less than 18 years, of whom 69% were reported to affiliate with a religion and 63% with Christianity.

PARTICIPATION IN RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES

According to the ABS 2002 General Social Survey, 23% of Australian adults participated in church or religious activities during the three months prior to interview. In keeping with being more likely to affiliate with a religion, women (26%) were more likely than men (20%) to have participated in church or religious activities. This pattern was evident among all age groups.


As with religious affiliation, participation in church or religious activities tended to increase with age. Among 18-24 year olds, 23% of women and 16% of men had participated in church or religious activities. Rates for people aged 65 years and over were higher at 29% for women and 24% for men.

VOLUNTARY WORK

Some religions encourage adherents to be charitable to those in need. Thus, having a particular religious affiliation may predispose a person to do unpaid voluntary work. In 2000, while 18% of volunteers cited a desire for social contact as a reason for volunteering, 12% of volunteers were motivated to volunteer by religious belief.(SEE ENDNOTE 4)

Of the 23% of Australian adults who had participated in church or religious activities within the three months prior to interview in 2002, just over a half (52%) had also done unpaid voluntary work for an organisation within the previous 12 months. In comparison, less than a third (29%) of adults who had not participated in church or religious activities had done such voluntary work.

There was a clear difference in the likelihood of having done unpaid voluntary work for a religious organisation between adults who had participated in church or religious activities and those who had not. Of those who had participated in church or religious activities, 30% had also done some unpaid voluntary work for a religious organisation within the 12 months prior to interview, compared with just 1% of those who had not participated in church or religious activities.

TIME SPENT ON RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY AND RITUAL CEREMONY

The activity classification category 'Religious activities/ritual ceremonies' used in ABS Time Use Surveys encompassed a range of activities. These included prayer, religious meditation, studying religious text, missionary work, visiting a burial site, worshipping at a sacred place, and going to a wedding, funeral or other religious initiation, coming of age or rite of passage ceremony.(SEE ENDNOTE 5)

According to the Time Use Survey, on an average day in 1997 only a small proportion of Australians aged 15 years and over (4% of males and 6% of females) spent time on a religious activity or ritual ceremony as a main activity.(SEE ENDNOTE 6) Among those who spent time in this way (either as a main or simultaneous activity), the amount of time spent on an average day by males and females was 103 minutes and 85 minutes respectively. In 1992, a very similar proportion of Australians spent some time on a religious activity or ritual ceremony as a main activity.(SEE ENDNOTE 6) However, those who did so in 1992, spent more time on average than those who did so in 1997 (105 minutes compared with 92 minutes per person per day). This was true for both males and females.


AVERAGE AMOUNT OF TIME SPENT(a) ON RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES OR RITUAL CEREMONY
1992
1997
average minutes per day
average minutes per day

Males
125
103
Females
91
85
Persons
105
92

(a) By people aged 15 years and over who participated in religious activity or ritual ceremony during the survey reference period.

Source: How Australians Use Their Time, 1997 (ABS cat. no. 4153.0).



RATE OF PARTICIPATION IN CHURCH OR RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES AND UNPAID VOLUNTARY WORK FOR A RELIGIOUS ORGANISATION - 2002
GRAPH - RATE OF PARTICIPATION IN CHURCH OR RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES AND UNPAID VOLUNTARY WORK FOR A RELIGIOUS ORGANISATION - 2002


Overall, older people were more likely than younger people, and women more likely than men, to have done unpaid work for a religious organisation. However, differences between age groups and the sexes were small.


UNPAID VOLUNTARY WORK, BY RELIGIOUS PARTICIPATION OF WORKER - 2002
GRAPH - UNPAID VOLUNTARY WORK, BY RELIGIOUS PARTICIPATION OF WORKER - 2002


In addition to religious organisations, there are many other types of organisations for which people volunteer to perform unpaid work (see Australian Social Trends 2002, Voluntary work, pp. 146-150). In 2002, adults who had participated in church or religious activities within the three months prior to interview were more likely to have volunteered for a welfare or community organisation (18% compared with 9% of those who had not participated in church or religious activities), and for an organisation concerned with education, training or youth development (12% compared with 7%). However, there was little difference between the rates of volunteering for an emergency services organisation (both 2%), an environmental or animal welfare organisation (also both 2%), a law, justice or political organisation (both 1%), and a foreign or international organisation in Australia (again both 1%).


ENDNOTES

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Births, Australia, 2000, cat. no. 3301.0, ABS, Canberra.
2 Bouma, G, 'Globalization and recent changes in the demography of Australian religious groups: 1947 to 2001', People and Place, vol. 10, no. 4, 2002, pp. 17-23.
3 Bouma, G and Hughes, P, 'Religion and age in Australia' in People and Place, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1998, pp. 18-25.
4 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Voluntary Work, Australia, 2000, cat. no. 4441.0, ABS, Canberra.
5 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1998, Time Use Survey, Australia - Users’ Guide, 1997, cat. no. 4150.0, ABS, Canberra.
6 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1998, How Australians Use Their Time, 1997, cat. no. 4153.0, ABS, Canberra.


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