Australian Bureau of Statistics
3416.0 - Perspectives on Migrants, 2007
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/02/2008 First Issue
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AUSTRALIA'S RELIGIOUS PROFILE
Based on the number of adherents, the major world religions are generally accepted as: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Tribal, Animism and Judaism (ABS 2005).
Australia's religious profile is predominantly Christian. When asked 'What is your religion?' in the 2006 Census 12.7 million people recorded 'Christian' or provided a Christian denomination. There is also a significant secular component, with 3.7 million people reporting 'No religion'. Answering this Census question was optional and 2.4 million did not state their religion (or inadequately described it). Smaller numbers of people indicated Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism as their religion.
RELIGION AND COUNTRY OF BIRTH
One in five people who recorded Christianity as their religion were born overseas. Similarly 20% of those who stated 'No religion' on their Census form were born overseas while 11% of people who chose not to provide their religion (or inadequately described it) were born overseas.
Apart from Judaism, the majority of people who reported non-Christian religions were born overseas: including 82% (121,300) of those recording Hinduism, 69% (288,100) recording Buddhism and 58% (198,400) recording Islam.
NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS, Australian and overseas born residents
Although the proportion of people who were born overseas has remained unchanged at 22% since 1996, Australia's 'country of birth' profile has changed over this time. England and New Zealand remain the two largest overseas-born groups but the size of the European-born population has decreased. China is now the third largest birthplace group having increased by 96,000 since 1996, while the number of people born in India has increased by 70,000.
TOP 15 COUNTRIES OF BIRTH IN 2006 AND 1996
England, New Zealand, China, India and South Africa are the top five countries of birth for newly arrived Australian residents.
TOP 5 COUNTRIES OF BIRTH FOR RECENT ARRIVALS
Christianity is the most common religion of recent arrivals. Census data show that 46.1% of people who arrived between 2002 and 2006 declared Christianity to be their religion compared with 63.9% of those who arrived before 2002.
RELIGIOUS AFFILIATIONS BY YEAR OF ARRIVAL
The changing country of birth profile has resulted in changes to Australia's mix of religions. It is not clear however that changes in the country of birth profile will result in similar changes in the profile of religions, based on the mix of religions in the countries of origin. Generally, there are similarities between the religious profiles of source countries – such as England, New Zealand, China, Italy, Scotland, the Philippines and Greece – and the religious affiliations of Australian residents born in those countries. In some cases, however, there are significant differences.
The table below provides information about religious affiliation of residents in the top 15 countries of birth of migrants to Australia compared with that of Australian residents born in those countries. While the table provides data for each country of origin, it is important to note that this is intended to provide a general indication of the three main religious affiliations in these countries. These data are from a variety of sources and the collection methods may vary from that of the ABS. For example, the classifications used for religious groups and questions asked may differ from those used by the ABS in the Census of Population and Housing to describe the religion of Australian residents born in these overseas countries. Hence the data are not strictly comparable and caution should be exercised when interpreting results.
RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION IN AUSTRALIA AND COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
The following sections highlight four countries of origin where there appear to be differences between the mix of religions among residents of the country compared to Australian residents born in that country.
Data from the General Statistics Office of Vietnam indicate 81% of their population reported 'No religion' in their census compared to 11% of Australian residents born in Viet Nam. There are also significant differences in the proportion of people recording Buddhism or Christianity as their religion.
RELIGIONS OF AUSTRALIAN RESIDENTS BORN IN VIET NAM,
Compared with Vietnamese residents
While there has been a significant increase in the number of Australian residents born in India, the religious affiliation of this group does not reflect that of Indian residents. The United Nations Statistics Division report that in 2001 the three religions of India with the most adherents were: Hinduism (81%), Islam (13%) and Christianity (2%) yet ABS 2006 Census data show the religious affiliation of the Australian population born in India as: Hinduism (44%), Christianity (34%) and Other religions (13%).
RELIGIONS OF AUSTRALIAN RESIDENTS BORN IN INDIA,
Compared with Indian residents
In 2000 the three main religions in Malaysia were Islam (60%), Buddhism (19%) and Christianity (9%). However Australian residents born in Malaysia gave their religious affiliation as Christianity (43%), Buddhism (26%) and 'No religion' (16%) in the 2006 Census. Although Malaysia has a predominately Muslim population, only 5% of Malaysian-born Australians cited Islam as their religion.
RELIGIONS OF AUSTRALIAN RESIDENTS BORN IN MALAYSIA,
Compared with Malaysian residents
In Lebanon, 60% of residents cite Islam as their religion. The majority of Lebanese-born people in Australia report Christianity (53%) while 40% cited their religion as Islam.
RELIGIONS OF AUSTRALIAN RESIDENTS BORN IN LEBANON,
Compared with Lebanese residents
These examples indicate that it can be misleading to use birthplace as an indicator of religion in some cases. The relationship between birthplace, religion and ethnicity is complex. Although Census data show that there is no consistent association between 'country of birth' and 'religious affiliation', 'country of birth' is present in a wide range of survey and administrative data and is often used to infer a broad range of characteristics (e.g. English proficiency). This article shows that caution should be exercised when using 'country of birth' in this fashion. Similarly, it is important to carefully consider the relationship between 'country of birth' and other measures of ethnicity and cultural diversity such as 'Ancestry', 'Country of birth of parents', 'Language spoken at home' and 'Religion'. These can provide different perspectives on issues but care is required, particularly if these indicators are used in isolation.
LIST OF REFERENCES
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2005, Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG), cat. no. 1266.0, ABS, Canberra.
ABS 2007, 2006 Census of Population and Housing: Media Releases and Fact Sheets, cat. no. 2914.0.55.002, ABS Canberra.
Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region 2007, 'Chapter 18 Religion and Custom', Hong Kong 2006, viewed 5 February 2008, <http://www.yearbook.gov.hk/2006/en/index.htm>.
Central Intelligence Agency, United States Government 2008, The World Factbook, viewed 5 February 2008, <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.htmlcia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index>.
General Statistics Office of Vietnam 2004, Population and Housing Census Vietnam 1999, viewed 5 February 2008, <http://www.gso.gov.vn/default_en.aspx?tabid=491>.
Office for National Statistics, Government of the United Kingdom 2007, Census April 2001, viewed 5 February 2008, <http://www.statistics.gov.uk/census/>.
Religious Media Research and Information Service 2007, Religion and belief communities in Germany 2005, viewed 5 February 2008, <http://www.remid.de/remid_info_zahlen.htm>.
Statistics Netherlands 2003, Nearly as many Muslims as Calvinists in the Netherlands, viewed 5 February 2008, <http://www.cbs.nl/en-GB/default.htm>.
Statistics New Zealand 2007, 'Religious affiliation', 2006 Census: QuickStats About Culture and Identity, viewed 5 February 2008, <http://www.stats.govt.nz/census/default.htm>.
United Nations Statistics Division 2006, Demographic Yearbook 2004, viewed 5 February 2008, <http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/default.htm>.
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This page last updated 1 June 2009