Australian Bureau of Statistics
1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2007
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/01/2007
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English proficiency among people who spoke a language other than English at home varied with the age of the speaker and according to whether they were born in Australia (table 12.36). Around 88% of all people aged under 25 years who spoke a language other than English at home spoke English well or very well, compared with 60% of those aged 65 years and over.
People born in Australia who spoke a language other than English at home were generally more likely to speak English well or very well than the total population speaking a language other than English at home. Overall, 91% of those born in Australia spoke English well or very well, compared with 82% of the total population speaking other than English at home.
In 2004-05, there were 36,208 participants in the Adult Migrant English Program - an initiative to improve the English language proficiency of newly arrived migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds. The main source countries of participants were China, Sudan, Vietnam, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Thailand, South Korea, Turkey and Indonesia. In terms of migration category, 83% of Humanitarian entrants, 66% of Family entrants, and 62% of Skilled entrants had self-identified a need for English tuition.
Although a precise definition of the concept of religion is difficult, a religion is generally regarded as a set of beliefs and practices, usually involving acknowledgment of a divine or higher being or power, by which people order the conduct of their lives both practically and in a moral sense.
At the time of European settlement, the Aboriginal inhabitants followed their own religions involving beliefs in spirits behind the forces of nature, and the influence of ancestral spirit beings.
During the 1800s, European settlers brought their traditional churches to Australia. These included the Church of England (now the Anglican Church), and the Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Lutheran and Baptist churches.
With the exception of a small but significant Lutheran population of Germanic descent, Australian society in 1901 was predominantly Anglo-Celtic, with 40% of the population being Anglican, 23% Catholic, 34% other Christian and about 1% professing non-Christian religions.
Further waves of migration helped to reshape the profile of Australia's religious affiliations over subsequent decades. The impact of migration from Europe in the aftermath of World War II led to increases in affiliates of the Orthodox Churches, the establishment of Reformed bodies, growth in the number of Catholics (largely from Italian migration), and the creation of ethnic parishes among many other denominations. More recently, immigration from South-East Asia and the Middle East has expanded Buddhist and Muslim numbers, and increased the ethnic diversity of existing Christian denominations.
In response to the 2001 Census question, stated religious affiliations were: 27% Catholic; 21% Anglican; 21% other Christian denominations; and 5% non-Christian religions. Just over a quarter of all persons either stated they had no religion, or did not adequately respond to the question to enable classification of their religion.
A question on religious affiliation has been asked in every Census taken in Australia, with the voluntary nature of this question having been specifically stated since 1933. In 1971 the instruction 'if no religion, write none' was introduced. This saw a seven-fold increase from the previous Census year in the proportion of persons stating they had no religion. Since 1971 this proportion has progressively increased to about 16% in 1996 and 2001. Table 12.37 provides a summary of the major religious affiliations at each Census since 1901.
Table 12.38 shows the number and percentage of affiliates for each religion at the 1996 and 2001 Censuses, and the percentage change which occurred during the five-year period. Followers of religions other than Christianity have shown the largest proportional increases since the 1996 Census. The number of persons affiliated with Buddhism increased by 79%, with Hinduism by 42%, Islam 40% and Judaism 5%.
Growth in the numbers and proportions of persons of all ages affiliating with Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism are largely due to changes in the countries of origin of recent immigrants. Between 1996 and 2001 there were just over half a million new arrivals to Australia and, although the most common religious affiliation of immigrants is Christianity, affiliates of other religions are more highly represented among recent immigrants than in the total population.
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 Vietnam and 8% in China. Of persons of all ages affiliating with Islam in 2001, 62% were overseas born, with almost 11% born in Lebanon and 9% in Turkey.
Christian denominations had smaller proportional changes in the numbers of affiliates than the non-Christian religions. Between 1996 and 2001 Catholic affiliates increased by 4.2% or just over 200,000 persons, while Baptist affiliates increased by 4.8%. However, as the total population grew by 6% during this period, the actual percentage of the population professing affiliation to these denominations remained virtually unchanged. The most notable decreases in Christian affiliation occurred for Churches of Christ (decreasing by 18%), the Uniting Church (decreasing by 7%), and Presbyterian and Reformed (decreasing by 6%). An 11% increase was seen for Pentecostal affiliation between 1996 and 2001 (from 174,720 to 194,592). A substantial increase, associated with immigration from south-eastern Europe, was also seen for the Orthodox Churches, with the number of Orthodox affiliates increasing by 7% (from 497,015 to 529,444).
In 2001, 82% of persons aged 65 years and over identified themselves as Christian, compared with 60% of 18-24 year olds. In contrast, the other religions have a younger age profile. For example, 15% of all Christian affiliates were aged 65 years and over, compared with 6% of Buddhist affiliates; and 8% of Christian affiliates were aged between 18 and 24 years, compared with 13% of Buddhist affiliates. The largest group of Buddhist affiliates was 35-44 year olds. Similar trends were evident for Hindu and Muslim affiliates. In the 2001 Census, people in the 18-24 years age group were the most likely to state that they had no religion (20%).
According to the household survey, conducted by the ABS in March-July 2002, 23% of adults participated in church or religious activities during the three months prior to interview. 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 65 years and over were higher at 29% for women and 24% for men. People born overseas (31%) were more likely than those born in Australia (21%) to have participated in church or religious activities.
The 2002 survey also found that, during the twelve months prior to interview, religious organisations received unpaid help from 1.1 million volunteers aged 18 years and over, of whom 57% were female. These volunteers for religious organisations constituted 8% of the adult population.
The 2001 Census found that 14,238 people were employed as ministers of religion in their main job, and that 80% of them were men.
Citizenship is a relatively recent concept for Australia as a nation, having its origins in the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 (Cwlth). Prior to this, Australians were British subjects. Since the inception of the Act in January 1949, more than three million people born overseas have acquired Australian citizenship. For these people, citizenship is voluntary, expressing a commitment to the laws and principles of Australia, and respect for its land and its people. It confers the opportunity to participate more fully in Australian society, giving the rights to vote, to apply for public office, and to hold an Australian passport and hence leave and re-enter Australia freely.
Australian citizenship law and policy have been amended many times since their inception to reflect a more inclusive approach to the acquisition of Australian citizenship, with recent changes in policy creating more opportunities for young adults to acquire citizenship. All migrants who meet set criteria are encouraged to become Australian citizens. Children born in Australia acquire Australian citizenship at birth if at least one parent is an Australian citizen or a permanent resident of Australia. Children born overseas may be registered as having Australian citizenship by descent if at least one of their parents is an Australian citizen. Changes to citizenship legislation in 2002 have also made it possible for Australian citizens to hold citizenship of a second country, when previously this would have meant forfeiting their Australian citizenship. For more information see the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs web site.
The 2001 Census found almost three-quarters (74%) of people born overseas who had been resident in Australia for two years or more were Australian citizens. There was a high proportion of Australian citizens among people born in Greece (97%). However, this citizenship rate was influenced by the age and period of residence of people from Greece. For Australian residents born in Greece, most (83%) arrived in Australia in 1970 or earlier and three-quarters are aged 50 years and over. The longer overseas-born people reside in Australia and, consequently, the older they get, the more likely it is that they have acquired Australian citizenship.
Standardising gives the rates that would be expected if a given overseas-born population had the same profile of age and period of residence in Australia as the total overseas-born population (table 12.39). Based on standardised rates, people born in the Philippines, Vietnam and China were the most likely to become Australian citizens. Unstable or changing political and socioeconomic conditions in these countries may result in a greater desire for Australian citizenship than is felt by people born in other countries. In contrast, people born in the United Kingdom and New Zealand were less likely to become Australian citizens.
Despite their comparatively low rate of take-up of citizenship, Australian residents born in the United Kingdom and New Zealand were the two largest groups among the 93,100 people granted Australian citizenship in 2004-05 (table 12.40). This is consistent with the large numbers of United Kingdom and New Zealand-born people resident in Australia. Former British, Irish and New Zealand citizens have been among the largest sources of Australian citizens since the early-1970s, when legislative changes and visa requirements prompted many Commonwealth citizens living in Australia to apply for Australian citizenship. Other residents who were granted Australian citizenship in 2004-05 were likely to have come from Asian countries such as China (8%), India (5%), Philippines (4%) and Vietnam (2%). Together, these countries comprised 20% of all citizenship grants. South Africa was another major source of new citizens, accounting for 5% of grants. These figures reflect immigration from these countries in recent years - China, India, South Africa, Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam being in the top ten birthplaces of overseas-born people who arrived in Australia during the decade 1996-2005.
The ancestry classification used by the ABS recognises the self-defined and self-reported ancestries of all Australians and includes ancestries which refer to nations, to groups within nations, and to groups or regions which cross national boundaries. Yet ancestry is a complex concept. A person's ancestry is shaped by country of birth and citizenship along with the more intangible concepts of language and religion. Moreover, the concept of ancestry is further complicated because a person may report more than one ancestry in answer to the Census question, and the question is open to their individual interpretation.
While ancestry has similarities with ethnic identity, the former has a more historical orientation - respondents to the 2001 Census were asked to consider their ancestry as far back as three generations. The 1986 Census was the only other to include questions about ancestry, but respondents were asked to consider their ancestry only as far back as two generations.
In 2001, more than 160 ancestries were separately identified by Australia's population. The most commonly stated were Australian (36%) and English (34%), while other main ancestries included Irish (10%), Italian (4%), German (4%), Chinese (3%), and Scottish (3%) (table 12.41). Of the 6.7 million people who reported Australian ancestry, almost all were born in Australia (99%) and had at least one Australian-born parent (98%).
While some of the other main ancestries had a strong association with Australia and with one other birthplace, others were associated with a wider range of birthplaces. Chinese ancestry, for example, was not only associated with Australia (26%), China (25%) and Hong Kong (11%), but with several other birthplaces such as Malaysia (10%) and Vietnam (8%).
Interestingly, the number of people who reported Australian ancestry almost doubled between 1986 and 2001, rising from 22% of the population to 36%. Similar growth was observed in the number of people identifying with Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese ancestries almost doubling, while the number of people reporting Lebanese ancestry increased by 76%.
While these changes are consistent with immigration trends over the period, some other changes can be attributed more to changing perceptions of ancestry. An example of this is the doubling of the number of people reporting Irish ancestry to just under two million in 2001. These changing perceptions may also contribute to the increase in the level of Australian ancestry.
The proportion of the population who reported more than one ancestry increased from 12% in 1986 to 22% in 2001. Almost a quarter of those who reported Australian ancestry stated another ancestry, mainly English (13% of the total Australian ancestry group) and Irish (3%). Some ancestries were more likely than others to be part of a two-ancestry response. People reporting Irish ancestry were the most likely to also report another ancestry (76%), while people who reported Vietnamese (6%), Lebanese (12%) or Chinese (15%) were the least likely to report another ancestry. These differences could be attributed to the length of time since the first immigrants from each group arrived in Australia.
This page last updated 16 January 2008
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