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Clarification - reports published regarding religious affiliation question in the 2026 Census

The Census provides a detailed picture of Australian society and is a key source of religious affiliation data. 

A question on religion has been included in all Australian Censuses since 1911. Since that time, it has had five major changes to reflect Australia’s changing society and needs. Even though the question is optional, it is answered by nearly all respondents. 

After the 2021 Census and following public and stakeholder consultation, the ABS updated the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG) to reflect the current diversity in the Australian community. The changes included adding three distinct religious groups below the broad group of Buddhism and five distinct religious groups below the broad group of Islam. This allows the diversity of these broad groups to be reflected for the first time, in the same way as Christianity is broken into more than 100 different religious groups/denominations. Syriac Catholic has also been added to the Narrow group Catholic. The ASCRG had not been significantly updated since 1996. 

The ABS is currently conducting a significant public consultation and testing program for the 2026 Census. During this consultation, the ABS has heard feedback on the need for the religious affiliation question to be more inclusive and to better reflect the diversity of the Australian community. 

The ABS is considering and testing several changes:

  • Would it be better to ask the question “Does the person have a religion?” rather than “What is the person’s religion?”? This is because 9.8 million people (over 40% of responses) indicated in the 2021 Census that they had no religion. The “Does the person have a religion?” question would have a mark box for both “No” and “Yes (specify religion)”. The ABS is not proposing to exclude a mark box for “Yes”, contrary to recent reporting.
  • For those who do indicate that they have a religion, the ABS is testing the use of a write-in box for all responses, instead of having a pick list for a small number of the most common religions and a write-in box for all others. This makes it a more equitable experience for everyone completing the question and lets people specify the level of detail that is most meaningful to them. It also supports the changes being made to the ASCRG classification outlined above (e.g. adding groups under Islam or Buddhism). In the 2021 Census, 2.5 million people (over 10% of responses) already responded using the write-in box. 

The ABS has made no final decision on the approach for the 2026 Census and is still consulting and testing, including a large-scale test in 2024. The ABS will consider the impact of any changes on comparability of data between Censuses, as well as ensuring the question collects the highest quality data, minimises public burden and is inclusive for all people.

The final topics and questions for the 2026 Census will be published on our website in late 2025. 

More information on the topic review process can be found in 2026 Census topic review: Phase two directions.  

Information from the 2021 Census on Religion is showcased in Cultural diversity: Census, 2021.


2024 Test question

Image shows extract of the 2024 test Census Household Paper Form question 24. Question "Does the person have a religion?" appears on the left with supporting text "Answering this question in Optional." and examples of how to complete "For example: MAHAYANA BUDDHISM, CATHOLIC, ANGLICAN CHURCH OF AUSTRALIA, HINDUISM, SUNNI, JUDAISM, SIKHISM, ABORIGINAL TRADITIONAL BELIEFS". Mark boxes and free text fields appear on the right, including "No' and "Yes (specify religion)".

2021 Census question

Image shows extract of the 2021 Census Household Paper Form question 23. Question "What is the person's religion?" appears on the left with supporting text "Answering this question in Optional." and examples of how to complete "Examples of 'Other': LUTHERAN, SALVATION ARMY, JUDAISM, TAOIHISM, ATHEISM" and "Mark one box, like this" with example image of black dash through questionnaire mark box. On the left is a list of mark box options followed by a free text box.

For media requests and interviews, contact ABS Media at media@abs.gov.au or call 1300 175 070.

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