Rise of the Godless

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the 2011 Census Data today – the full enchilada is available here, free of charge to anyone who wants to get into it. All figures in this post have been sourced from the ABS and the censuses they have conducted (here, here, here, and here).

But there’s a specific demographic change that caught my eye – in the area of religious affiliation.

Here are the top five religious affiliations in Australia according to the 2011 Census. See if you can guess what caught my eye.

The top five religious affiliations in Australia

This looked intriguing. I dove into the Bureau’s databases, and plotted out the changes in religious affiliation from 1961 to 2011 – the last half-century for which we’ve had regular censuses conducted. What I found was very interesting indeed.

Australian Census - Religion Numbers 1961-2011
(click to enlarge)

Over the course of the last half-century, although Catholicism has (more or less) held steady, there has been a general decline in affiliation with Christianity. Other religions are on a steady rise, but no one predominates; Buddhism, at roughly 529,000 adherents, is the single largest non-Christian affiliation, followed by Islam (in its many flavours) at 476,300 adherents, and Hinduism at 275,500 adherents (refer ABS 2012 for the source of those figures, about three-quarters of the way down).

But what I found most intriguing was the second-largest affiliation; note the inexorable march upwards of the number of people professing to have no religion. They are, as of now, second only to the Catholics in number; the gap between “no religion” and the Catholics is smaller than the gap between “no religion” and the third largest affiliation.

Curious as to where this thread was going, I plotted out the trends for the top four affiliations (Catholic, Anglican, Other Christian, and No Religion) out to 2021.

Australian Census - Religion Numbers 1961-2011 - 10 year Projection
(click to enlarge)

Interesting, isn’t it? If the linear trends established over the last half-century hold steady, then in less than fifteen years “no religion” will be the single largest affiliation in the nation – overtaking Catholicism sometime in the early 2020’s.

But data from the 20-year period from 1991 to 2011 tells a slightly different story. In that time Catholicism has declined from 27.3% of the total population to 25.3% of the total population. Using those 20-year linear trends, we find that “no religion” will be the single largest affiliation in Australia sometime around 2018.

Australian Census - Religion Numbers 1991-2011 - 10 year Projection
(click to enlarge)

I went back to the 50-year linear trends and projected them further – out to 2101 (I’ll confess I was just messing around with the graph by that stage). I found that, should the 50-year trend from 1961-2011 hold steady, then within this century, there will be more Australians without no religion than with one. The irreligious will outnumber all the religious combined.

This century, the godless will be first the plurality, and then the majority.