There was a good article posted this morning on Humans In Design about the validity of the religious affiliation question in the Australian Census. They raise some very valid concerns about how the way the census asks the question regarding religion, pointing out that it’s highly likely that the census underestimates the numbers of irreligious people.
I had the following exchange on twitter with Tristan Cooke of Humans In Design;
Well, there you go Tristan – a slow but steady rise from just under 10% to around about 11% in ten years, based on the 1961-2011 fifty-year linear trend.
I decided then to embark on a bit of a thought exercise. Assume, for the sake of this, that the people falling under “not stated” would be captured by the “no religion” figure; have a look at what happens if we combine “not stated/inadequately described” with “no religion”…
If the contention being made over at Humans in Design is correct, that people are skipping the question because they have no religion and the structure of the question is adversely impacting upon their answering this properly, then the irreligious became the largest affiliation in Australia at the dawn of the millennium (and no, writing in a real minor religion such as the Baha’i faith doesn’t put you into that category; you fall into the category of “Other religions”).
Here’s the ten-year projection, based off the 50-year linear trendline;
…and based on the 20-year linear trendline:
For the sake of the exercise, I projected both linear trendlines out to 2101 – should the 50-year trend hold, then there will be more Australians without a religion than with one in under forty years. The 20-year trendline flattens this rise out a little – to forty-five years. Either way, by 2060, a full forty years sooner than yesterday’s projections anticipated, the irreligious will outnumber the religious.
As with my post yesterday, all figures have been sourced directly from the ABS and the censuses they have conducted (see 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.