Australian Bureau of Statistics
1301.0 - Yearbook Chapter, 2009–10
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 04/06/2010
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FEATURE ARTICLE: CHARACTERISTICS OF THE POPULATION
In 2006, 29% of all people who spoke a language other than English at home were born in Australia. Greek (53%), Turkish (42%) and Italian (42%) were among those that had the largest proportions of Australian-born speakers, reflecting the fact that although these languages were mainly brought to Australia more than 20 years ago, they continue to be maintained among the children of those migrants. Arabic also has a high proportion of speakers born in Australia (43%). Languages spoken by migrants arriving in Australia more recently, such as Mandarin, Hindi and Filipino had small proportions of Australian-born speakers.
In 2006, Italian, Greek, Cantonese, Arabic, Mandarin and Vietnamese were the six most commonly spoken (non-English) languages in Australia in terms of numbers, however the proportion of the population speaking these languages has changed over time. In 2006, there were comparatively fewer people speaking Italian or Greek than there were twenty years ago when Italian, the most commonly spoken (non-English) language, was spoken by nearly 3% of the population, followed by Greek spoken by nearly 2%. In contrast, the proportion speaking Mandarin and Vietnamese has more than doubled over this time (graph S7.2).
S7.2 Persons who speak a language other than English at home, By languages most commonly spoken - 1986, 1996 and 2006
English proficiency among people who spoke a language other than English at home was highest among those speaking Northern European languages (notably German, Scandinavian and Netherlandic) and lowest among those speaking Eastern Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese and Korean) (table S7.3). Nearly 97% of Northern European language speakers spoke English either well or very well, compared with 75% of Eastern Asian language speakers.
English proficiency among people who spoke a language other than English at home varied with the age and sex of the speaker. Around 84% 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 (graph S7.4).
Around 82% of males and 80% of females who spoke a language other than English at home spoke English well or very well, while slightly more females than males either did not speak English well or at all.
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), 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 Islamic numbers, and increased the ethnic diversity of existing Christian denominations.
In response to the 2006 Census question, stated religious affiliations were: 26% Catholic; 19% Anglican; 19% all other Christian denominations; and 6% non-Christian religions. Almost 31% of all persons either stated they had no religion, or did not adequately respond to the question to enable classification of their religion.
Table S7.5 shows the number and percentage of affiliates of each religion at the time of the 1986, 1996 and 2006 Censuses. Since 1986, the number of people professing affiliation with the Christian denominations grew from around 11.4 million to 12.7 million, a growth rate of 12%.Those affiliated with non-Christian faiths increased from around 0.3 million to 1.1 million people, an increase of almost 250%. In contrast, the total population grew by 27% over the same period.
The most common Christian denominations continued to be Catholic and Anglican. Since 1986, the number of Australians affiliated with the Catholic church grew by 26% to 5.1 million, while those affiliated with the Anglican faith remained steady at just over 3.7 million. The fastest growing Christian denomination was Pentecostal, recording an increase of 105%. Christian denominations which recorded a decline in reported affiliations over the twenty-year period were Churches of Christ (by 38%) and The Salvation Army (by 17%).
Australia's three most common non-Christian religious affiliations were Buddhism (2% of all persons), Islam (2%) and Hinduism (1%). Of these groups, Hinduism experienced the fastest proportional growth since 1986, more than doubling each decade to over 148,100, followed by Buddhism which doubled each decade to almost 418,800 affiliates.
Whilst Christianity remained the dominant religion in Australia over the twenty-year period, Christian denominations generally had smaller proportional changes in the numbers of affiliates than the non-Christian religions. The proportion of Christians in the total population fell from 73% in 1986 to 64% in 2006, while in the same period non-Christian religions, increased from 2% of the total population in 1986 to 6% in 2006. The number of Australian residents who have stated no religion increased from 13% in 1986 to 19% in 2006 (graph S7.6).
Since 1986, non-Christian religions have grown at very high rates and collectively account for 6% of the total population in 2006 (1.1 million people). Over the twenty-year period, Buddhism experienced large rates of growth and in 2006 represented the largest group of non-Christian religions, overtaking affiliation with Islam which was the largest group in both 1986 and 1996 Censuses (graph S7.7). Notably, Hinduism affiliation experienced the largest rate of growth (from a small base) of all religions (590%) between 1986 and 2006 (table S7.5).
S7.7 NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION(a), By proportion of non-Christian religions - 1986, 1996 and 2006
Growth in the numbers and proportions of persons affiliating with Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism are largely due to recent migration. Table S7.8 shows the religious affiliation for those born overseas and year of arrival into Australia as reported in the 2006 Census. In the five years from 2002 to 2006, there were almost 650,000 new arrivals to Australia and whilst the most common religious affiliation of migrants is Christianity, affiliates of other religions are more highly represented amongst recent migrants than those arriving prior to 2002 and compared to the total population.
With the exception of Judaism, the majority of people who reported non-Christian religions in 2006 were born overseas. Hinduism (82% born overseas), Buddhism (69%) and Islam (58%) (some actual numbers are in graph S7.9). With respect to the main countries of birth of affiliates, 44% of all people affiliating with Hinduism were born in India, for Buddhism 22% were born in Vietnam and 9% in China, and for Islam almost 9% were born in Lebanon and 7% in Turkey.
In 2006, 80% of persons aged 65 years and over identified themselves as Christian, compared with 55% of 18-24 year olds. In contrast, the other religions have a younger age profile. For example, 17% 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 12% of Buddhist affiliates. The largest group of adult Buddhist affiliates was 35-44 year olds. Similar trends were evident for Hindu and Islam affiliates.
Australian citizenship did not exist before 1949. Until then, Australians could only hold the status of British subjects. With the introduction of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948, people born in Australia - on or after 26 January 1949 and before 20 August 1986 - became Australian citizens by birth. Since 1986, people born in Australia become Australian citizens automatically if at least one parent is an Australian citizen or a permanent resident of Australia. For more information see the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's website http://www.immi.gov.au/.
Although Australian citizenship is voluntary for people born overseas, all eligible migrants are encouraged to apply. Citizenship provides the opportunity to participate fully in Australian life, giving the right to vote, to apply for public office, to hold an Australian passport and to leave and re-enter Australia freely. During the citizenship ceremony, people are asked to pledge loyalty to Australia and its people, to share their democratic beliefs, to respect their rights and liberties and to uphold and obey Australia's laws.
Legislative changes in 2002 have made it possible for Australian citizens to hold dual citizenship, when previously this would have meant forfeiting their Australian citizenship when taking up another country's citizenship.
On 1 July 2007 the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 came into effect, introducing changes to terminology (e.g. 'grant of citizenship' has become 'citizenship by conferral') and extending the residence requirement from two years permanent residence to four years lawful residence, including the last 12 months as a permanent resident. From October 2007, further changes were introduced, requiring most applicants to pass a test before they apply for Australian citizenship. Applicants are required to have a basic knowledge of English and know something of Australia's history, heritage and culture.
Since 1945, over 6.5 million people have migrated to Australia, with more than 4 million people becoming Australian citizens since 1949. The longer overseas-born people reside in Australia, the more likely it is that they have acquired Australian citizenship. For example, there is a high proportion of Australian citizens among people born in Greece, reflecting past immigration policies which sourced migrants from countries such as Greece at the end of World War II (graph S7.10).
S7.10 PROPORTIONS OF THE POPULATION WITH AUSTRALIAN CITIZENSHIP, 1986, 1996 AND 2006, by selected country of birth
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. In more recent times, arrivals from India and China have overtaken Ireland and New Zealand as sources of Australian citizens.
Table S7.11 shows that nearly 87,000 people from over 180 countries were conferred with Australian citizenship at ceremonies in 2008-09.
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 2006 Census were asked to provide up to two ancestries only, while for the 2001 Census respondents were asked to consider their ancestry as far back as three generations. The 1986 Census was the only other Census to include questions about ancestry, but respondents were asked to consider their ancestry only as far back as two generations.
Ancestry changes are consistent with immigration trends over the period but some other changes can be attributed to changing perceptions of ancestry as well as differences in Census question design.
In 2006, more than 270 ancestries were separately identified by Australia's population. The most commonly stated ancestries were Australian with 7.4 million (37%) choosing this as at least one of their ancestries and English (6.3 million or 32%). Other main ancestries included Irish (9%), Scottish (8%), Italian (4%), German (4%), and Chinese (3%) (table S7.12).
When both parents were born overseas, the most commonly reported ancestries were English (25% of persons for this group), Chinese (10%), Italian (7%), Scottish (6%) and Irish (4%).
If both parents were born in Australia, the response rate for 'Australian' ancestry increased to 57% (percentage of persons for this group). Other reported ancestries for persons with both parents born in Australia were English (36%), Irish (13%), Scottish (9%), German (5%) and Italian (2%).
Around 64% of Australian residents identified with only one ancestry, while 28% selected two ancestries in 2006. For those who reported Australian ancestry, the second ancestries reported were mainly English (17% of the total Australian ancestry group), Scottish (4%) and Irish (3%). Some ancestries were more likely than others to be part of a two-ancestry response. People reporting Thai (99%) or Irish ancestries (76%) were the most likely to also report another ancestry, while people who reported Korean (1%), Vietnamese (1%), or Bengali (2%) were the least likely to report another ancestry.
With regard to 'Australian' ancestry responses, people born in Australia accounted for 96% of the 7.4 million responses. However, of the remaining Australian ancestry responses (that is, of those born overseas), 10% were recorded by people born in England, 9% by New Zealand-born and 3% by people born in the United States of America (graph S7.13).
S7.13 Overseas born persons reporting Australian ancestry in 2006, Top 10 Countries, by country of birth
Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG), Second Edition (1249.0)
Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), Second Edition (1267.0)
Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG), Second Edition, 2005 (1266.0)
Census of Population and Housing 1986, 1996, 2006
Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Annual Report, 2005-06, 2007-08, 2008-09
Klapdor, M, Coombs, M, Bohm, C, Australian citizenship: a chronology of major developments in policy and law, Background note, 11 September 2009, Parliament of Australia, Department of Parliamentary Services, Parliamentary Library Information, last viewed November 2009, <http://www.citizenship.gov.au/_pdf/cit_chron_policy_law.pdf>
Department of Immigration and Citizenship, last viewed October 2009, <http://www.immi.gov.au/>
Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Fact Sheet 4, last viewed November 2009, <http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/>
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This page last updated 14 September 2015