2071.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Reflecting Australia - Stories from the Census, 2016  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 28/06/2017   
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All RSS Feed RSS Bookmark and Share Search this Product


RELIGION IN AUSTRALIA, 2016


INTRODUCTION

The religious fabric of the world is changing. Increased migration has dispersed religious ideas and practices throughout the world. Changes in social attitudes have also influenced how people see themselves and their relationship with religion.

The Australian population is no different. In the 1911 Census of Population and Housing, 96% of Australians reported Christianity as their religion. Today we have more diversity in religions and denominations, as well as an increasing number of people reporting that they do not have a religion.


MAJOR RELIGIOUS AFFILIATIONS IN 2016

Reflecting the historical influence of European migration to Australia, Christianity was the most common religion reported in the 2016 Census (52%), with Catholics the largest group (23% of the population). Other religions make up a much smaller proportion of the population (8.2%), with the most commonly reported being lslam (2.6%), closely followed by Buddhism (2.4%). Nearly a third (30%) of Australians reported that they had no religion in 2016.

Compared with the 2011 Census, the proportion of the population with a Christian affiliation decreased from 61% to 52% in 2016. Conversely, the proportion of the population with a religion other than Christianity increased from 7.2% in 2011 to 8.2% in 2016. The proportion reporting to have no religion also increased from 22% in 2011 to 30% in 2016 (over an additional 2 million persons).

RELIGIOUS AFFILIATIONS, 2011 AND 2016
2011(a)
2016


Religious Affiliations
Populations
('000)
Population
(%)
Populations
('000)
Population
(%)

Christian
13 149.3
61.1
12 201.6
52.1
Catholic
5 439.3
25.3
5 291.8
22.6
Anglican
3 679.9
17.1
3 101.2
13.3
Uniting Church
1 065.8
5.0
870.2
3.7
Presbyterian and Reformed
599.5
2.8
526.7
2.3
Eastern Orthodox
563.1
2.6
502.8
2.1
Other Christian
1 801.8
8.4
1 908.9
8.2

Other Religions
1 546.3
7.2
1 920 .8
8.2
Islam
476.3
2.2
604.2
2.6
Buddhism
529.0
2.5
563.7
2.4
Hinduism
275.5
1.3
440.3
1.9
Sikhism
72.3
0.3
125.9
0.5
Judaism
97.3
0.5
91.0
0.4
Other
95.9
0.4
95.7
0.4

No Religion(b)
4 804.6
22.3
7 040.7
30.1

Australia(c)
21 507.7
100
23 401.9
100

(a) 2011 data has been calculated using the 2016 definitions.
(b) No religion includes secular beliefs (e.g. Atheism) and other spiritual beliefs (e.g. New Age).
(c) As religion was an optional question, the total for Australia will not equal the sum of the items above it.

Source: ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2011 and 2016

CHANGES OVER TIME

Australians are becoming less religious and more religiously diverse. There has been an increase in migration from countries where religions other than Christianity are common. This has influenced the increase in the proportion of Australians affiliated with non-Christian religions. There has also been a marked increase in the proportion of Australians reporting to not have a religion.

Christian

Christianity was the main religion reported 50 years ago, as it was in 2016. However the proportion has dropped, from 88% in 1966 to 52% in 2016.

Since 1966, the proportion of Australians identifying as Catholics has remained steady at around 26% until 2016 when it dropped to 23%. Over the same period, the proportion of the population identifying as Anglicans more than halved (33% to 13%). Since 1966, the proportion affiliating with other Christian denominations has also decreased and continues to trend downwards.

Other religions

In 1966, less than 1% of the population reported having a religion other than Christianity compared with 8.2% in 2016. Islam and Buddhism were the main contributors to this increase, although the proportion of Australians reporting Hinduism also increased over this period. These trends reflect changes in the countries of origin of recent migrants, where these religions are more predominant.

No religion

The proportion of people reporting to have no religion in Australia has increased steadily and substantially over the past 50 years. In 1966, 0.8% said they had no religion, while in 2016, 30% of people reported they had 'No religion', now placed at the top of the list of response options on the Census form. Following changes in social attitudes, a number of modifications have been made to the religion question over time to more accurately reflect Australia's beliefs.

Graph Image for Major religious affiliations, 1966 to 2016

Footnote(s): (a) No religion includes secular beliefs (e.g. Atheism) and other spiritual beliefs (e.g. New Age). (b) Some religions may not be completely comparable over time due to changes in the Religious Groups Classification.

Source(s): ABS Census of Population and Housing, 1966 - 2016


EMERGING RELIGIONS

There has been a downward trend in the proportion of people identifying with Christianity as a whole in the last 10 years. There also does not seem to be an emergence in any particular Christian denomination in that time. However the story is different for the major non-Christian religions.

The proportion of people reporting a religion other than Christianity in the Census increased from 5.6% in 2006 to 8.2% in 2016. Although the increase spreads across most non-Christian religions, it was mainly driven by Hinduism (0.7% in 2006 to 1.9% in 2016), Islam (1.7% to 2.6%) and Sikhism (0.1% to 0.5%). The increase in the proportion of Hinduism and Sikhism is as a result of the increase in the number of migrants born in India.

Graph Image for Emerging major religions, 2006 to 2016

Source(s): ABS Censuses of Population and Housing, 2016


RELIGION, AGE AND SEX

The age profile of a religious group in Australia can be a reflection of historic patterns of different waves of migration. The 2016 Census showed that Christians are more likely to be relatively old, non-Christians are likely to be relatively young and the younger population tend not to be affiliated with any religion.

Christian

In 2016, Brethren and Latter-day Saints had the youngest age profile of Christian denominations, with more than half (both 56%) of their population being under 35 years. Both denominations also had small proportions aged 65 years and over (14% and 10% respectively). The Catholic population was also relatively young with 44% aged less than 35 years. Of the larger Christian denominations, Presbyterian and Reformed had the highest proportion aged 65 years and over (34%).

There is some difference in the rates of men and women affiliated with Christian denominations. In the 2016 Census, women were more likely than men to report being Christian (55% compared with 50%).

Graph Image for Age distribution of selected Christian denominations, 2016

Source(s): ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016


Other religions

In 2016, Sikhs had the youngest age profile with almost three quarters (74%) aged less than 35 years. Islam and Hinduism also had a young age profile with 66% and 64% respectively under the age of 35.

In comparison, the Jewish population had one of the lowest proportions of people under 35 years (38%) and the largest proportion of people aged 65 years and over (23%) as a result of the high rate of Jewish migration associated with World War II.1

A similar proportion of men (8.3%) and women (8.1%) said they had a religion other than Christianity in the 2016 Census.

Graph Image for Age distribution of major religions other than Christianity, 2016

Source(s): ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016


No religion

Overall, men were more likely to report no religion (32%) than women (28%). However, there were differences when age was examined.

Before the age of 25, there was very little difference between the sexes, with males just as likely as females to report having no religion or have no religion reported on their behalf. From the age of 25, the difference between men and women gradually widens and continues until the age of 74. The difference decreases slightly from the age of 75 but remains fairly steady.

Young adults (aged 18-34 years) were more likely to report not having a religion (39%) compared with those aged 65 years and over (16%).

Graph Image for Age distribution of people reporting no religion(a), 2016

Footnote(s): (a) No religion includes secular beliefs (e.g. Atheism) and other spiritual beliefs (e.g. New Age).

Source(s): ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016


WHERE PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT RELIGIONS LIVE

States and territories

In 2016, Queensland and New South Wales had the highest proportions of Christians (56% and 55% respectively), and Victoria and New South Wales the highest proportions of non-Christians (10.6% and 10.1% respectively). Tasmania had the highest proportion of people who reported that they had no religion (38%) and the lowest proportion of people reporting religions other than Christianity (2.3%). The settlement patterns of migrants is partly reflected in the religious composition within each state and territory.

Graph Image for Religious affiliations within each state and territory, 2016

Footnote(s): (a) No religion includes secular beliefs (e.g. Atheism) and other spiritual beliefs (e.g. New Age).

Source(s): ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016


Capital cities

The relative proportions of Christians, non-Christians and those with no religion within each capital city reflects the relative proportions in each of their states/territories.

More than half of Brisbane and Sydney's populations were likely to report being Christian in 2016 (54% and 52% respectively), a higher proportion than in other capital cities. People living in Sydney (14%) were also more likely to be affiliated with religions other than Christianity than other capital cities, although Melbourne was similar (13%).

Four out of every 10 people living in Hobart reported they had no religion.

Graph Image for Religious affiliations within each capital city, 2016

Footnote(s): (a) No religion includes secular beliefs (e.g. Atheism) and other spiritual beliefs (e.g. New Age).

Source(s): ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016



RELIGION FOR THOSE BORN OVERSEAS

In 2016, nearly half (47%) of those born overseas said they were affiliated with Christianity while 58% of the people born in Australia reported being a Christian. Reflecting the variety of countries from which migrants come, the proportion of those with a religion other than Christianity was considerably more for those born overseas than for those born in Australia (21% and 3.7% respectively). A larger proportion of the Australian-born population (34%) reported that they did not have a religion compared with the overseas-born population (27%).

Graph Image for Religion for those born in Australia and Overseas, 2016

Footnote(s): (a) No religion includes secular beliefs (e.g. Atheism) and other spiritual beliefs (e.g. New Age).

Source(s): ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016


Of the overseas-born population in 2016:
    • 47% were Christians
    • 6.5% were Buddhist
    • 6.0% were Islamic
    • 5.8% were Hindu
    • 1.6% were Sikh
    • 27% did not have a religion.

Country of birth

People of different religions come from a variety of countries. In 2016, nearly one in five Christians born overseas had been born in England (18%) while more than nine in ten Sikhs (94%) born overseas were born in India. People from Vietnam, Pakistan and China were also significant contributors to different religious beliefs.

BIRTHPLACE OF OVERSEAS-BORN PEOPLE AND RELIGION, 2016
Religion
Main Source Countries
Contribution by main source country(a) (%)

Christian
England
17.7
New Zealand
8.4
Buddhism
Vietnam
25.9
China
13.8
Islam
Pakistan
14.7
Afghanistan
11.5
Hinduism
India
62.9
Nepal
12.6
Sikhism
India
93.6
Malaysia
2.0
No Religion(b)
China
22.4
England
19.8


(a) Excludes those who did not state their country of birth.
(b) No religion includes secular beliefs (e.g. Atheism) and other spiritual beliefs (e.g. New Age).

Source: ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016


RELIGION AND THE YEAR OF ARRIVAL

The majority of the overseas-born population reported an affiliation with Christianity. However, the proportion of those with another religion has been steadily increasing since the 1950's, corresponding with the decrease in those with a Christian religion. Five percent of people who arrived in Australia from 1966 to 1975 reported that they had a religion other than Christianity compared with 17% who arrived from 1976 to 1985. This change was mainly driven by the overseas-born Buddhist population (1.2% arrived 1966 to 1975 and 10% arrived 1976 to 1985).

While the overseas-born population was still predominantly Christian in 2016, more recent arrivals were less likely to identify as Christian. Of those who have arrived in the ten years from the beginning of 2007 to August 2016:
    • 34% identified with a Christian religion
    • 31% identified with another religion
    • 30% reported no religious affiliation

The proportion of those who stated they did not have a religion has also been gradually increasing among the overseas-born population. The proportion has doubled from 15% in the 1900's to 30% in the early 21st century. This is similar to the Australian-born population (34%).

Graph Image for Religion and the Year of Arrival, 1900 to 2016

Footnote(s): (a) No religion includes secular beliefs (e.g. Atheism) and other spiritual beliefs (e.g. New Age).

Source(s): ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016



RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION OF ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLES

The 2016 Census showed that there were broad similarities in the religious affiliation of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population and the non-Indigenous population. Overall, 54% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples reported a Christian affiliation, almost the same proportion as the non- Indigenous population (55%).

In 2016, less than 2% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population reported adherence to Australian Aboriginal Traditional religions or beliefs. This has remained steady over the last 20 years.

The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who reported they had no religion has increased gradually since 2001. The largest increase occurred between 2011 (24%) and 2016 (36%). These proportions are higher than for the non-Indigenous populations (22% and 30% respectively).

Graph Image for Religious affiliations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, 1996 to 2016

Footnote(s): (a) Other religions excludes Australian Aboriginal Traditional Religions. (b) No religion includes secular beliefs (e.g. Atheism) and other spiritual beliefs (e.g. New Age).

Source(s): ABS Census of Population and Housing, 1996 - 2016



EXPLANATORY INFORMATION
'No religion' is equivalent to 'Secular Beliefs and Other Spiritual Beliefs and No Religious Affiliation'. For further details, see the Census of Population and Housing: Census Dictionary (cat. no. 2901.0). Return

1Department of Immigration and Border Protection (2015), A History of the Department of Immigration - Managing Migration to Australia, accessed at: https://www.border.gov.au/CorporateInformation/Documents/immigration-history.pdf on 25/04/17.