‘No religion’ part of ongoing trend, but not whole story

‘No religion’ part of ongoing trend, but not whole story

NCLS Research says the increase in Australians ticking the 'no religion' box is no surprise, but there's more to the story.

Newly released results from the 2021 national Census, which show an increase in  Australians ticking the ‘no religion’ box come as no surprise to a leading national commentator on religion. “When you choose a religious affiliation in the national Census, it is a statement of belonging or identity,” according to the NCLS Research Director Dr Ruth Powell. “When Australians choose ‘no religion’ it tells us about a group for whom it is not an important part of their personal, social or cultural identity”.

The question about religion has been asked in every Census since 1901. It is a voluntary question and in the past few decades around 10% to 12% of Australians have not answered it. In 2021 only 7% did not provide a response.

Christian affiliation declined from 52% in 2016 to 44% in 2021. This drop is largely made up of declines in Catholic (3%) and Anglican (3%) affiliation.

However, to form a view about how ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ Australians are, there is more to it. Religious affiliation is only one aspect of the religious profile of Australians. “We know that people who don't identify as belonging to a particular religious group can still have spiritual or religious lives,” Dr Powell said.

Results from the 2021 Australian Community Survey, run by NCLS Research a few months after the 2021 national Census found that more than half of Australians believed in God or a higher power (55%), six in ten prayed or meditated, and two in ten (21%) attended religious services at least monthly.

The trend showing an increase in ‘no religion’ has continued since the option was first introduced to the 1971 Census. “Many young Australians do not claim to affiliate with a particular religion as it is not part of their social or cultural identity,” Dr Powell said. “But it does not mean that they are hostile or closed to spiritual life. The evidence from our detailed research shows an openness to spirituality, including the Christian faith - perhaps more than people would expect.

One in ten Australians affiliate to other religions, such as Hinduism and Islam. Dr Powell noted that this was indicative of Australia’s multicultural migrant population. “In our multicultural country, our new migrant communities tend to be more religious,” she said.

For more information or an interview with NCLS Research Director, Dr Ruth Powell, please contact Connie Lim at clim@ncls.org.au.

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