2900.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Understanding the Census and Census Data, Australia , 2016  
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Religious Affiliation (RELP)

The variable records a person's religious affiliation and is applicable to all persons. Answering this Census question is optional.

How this variable is created

Religious affiliations are coded to the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG) 2016.

Respondents could use one of the mark boxes to indicate their religion or write the name of their religion in the text field. The majority of responses for Religious Affiliation were captured automatically (90.1%) from a mark box response. Written responses were coded using a combination of automatic reading and coding processes (9.2%). The remaining responses required manual coding processes when they could not be coded or derived automatically (0.7%).

If a religion is not listed in the classification, it is coded to 'Inadequately Described'. In 2016, 0.5% of data for Religious Affiliation were coded to Inadequately Described.

In 1.5% of pre-processed data, people had either marked more than one religion or had marked a religion and also given a text response. In these cases, responses were accepted in the order they appeared on the form and the extra response was rejected.

A minor review of the classification in 2016 resulted in some changes to the classification structure and a net increase in the number of religions (4 digit groups) from 137 to 151, a decrease in 3 digit level groups from 30 to 28 and an increase in 2 digit groups from 3 to 7. The areas of greatest change are the Pentecostal narrow group (2 digit group 24), the Other Protestant narrow group (2 digit group 28) and Broad group 7, previously named No religion and now named Secular Beliefs and Other Spiritual Beliefs and No Religious Affiliation.

Variable history

A question on religion has been included in all Australian Censuses since 1911, but answering this question has always been optional. The option not to answer this question is provided for in legislation.

For 2016 a change was made to the question format, moving 'No religion' to be the first response category. This change was made following the 2016 Census topic review process, where many submissions recommended changes to the Religious affiliation question due to perceived bias in the question format and consequent potential underestimates of the number of people who stated they had no religion. The change was also made in light of the growing trend for people to report No Religion in previous Censuses. After user consultation and testing, the ABS decided to move the ‘No religion’ response category to be the first response category in the question, so it will be more consistent with other questions and the order of their response categories. This approach is consistent with that of a number of other countries.

Non-response rate

Item non-response rates are a measure of how many people did not respond to a particular question as a proportion of the total number of people the question was applicable to. In this instance the response is left as not stated.

The majority of item non-response is attributable to the people who did not respond to the Census at all. Refer to item non-response tables for more information. The second and smaller contributor to item non-response is when people return a Census form but may not answer a particular question(s). For more information, refer to Understanding Census data quality.


The non-response rate for this variable was 9.1% (8.6% in 2011). As this question is optional, it generally records a higher non-response rate when compared with most Census variables.

Further information

A definition of Religious Affiliation is available in the 2016 Census Dictionary.
More information about the classification is available in Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG) 2016.

Household form question image

Question 19 as it appeared on the 2016 Census Household Paper Form:

Image: 2016 Household Paper Form - Question 19. What is the person's religion?

Question 19 as it appeared on the 2011 Census Household Paper Form:
Image: 2011 Household Paper Form - Question 19. What is the person's religion?

A text only version of the online Census Household form is available from the Downloads tab.