Did “The Force” influence the Census?

Glenn - The Census Expert

Glenn is an ABS data expert with huge intellect and capacity to convert demographic data into profound insights about places. He has contributed numerous blogs and consulting projects covering economic development, housing consumption and affordability, migration, fertility, ageing, role and function of ‘place’, communities of interest and more. Glenn works with over 120 councils bringing the client perspective into the development of our information products. He is a Census data expert, having worked at the Australian Bureau of Statistics for 10 years. If there's anything Glenn doesn't know about the Census, it's probably not worth knowing - so ask Glenn!

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13 Responses

  1. Johnny says:

    Nice work, although I’m not sure that the constitution forbids the government to ask people their religion, they’re just playing safe and/or being culturally sensitive I would say. The constitution forbids the Commonwealth ‘imposing any religious observance’, I can’t imagine stating religion in a census amounts to religious observance

    • Glenn Capuano says:

      That’s interesting. I assume the bit on freedom of religious observance is where it has come from. That was the explanation for the optional nature of the religion question when I was at the ABS, anyway.

  2. Andrew Skegg says:

    There are a number of points I wish to raise here:

    1) I do not think our Government should be in the business of deciding what is a religion and what is not. The ABS maintain a list of acceptable answers to the census question, which effectively restricts the “official” religions recognised by our Government.

    2) While it’s a strange joke to play on the ABS and the Government, the Census is used for critical purposes. As such, the information reported should be as accurate as possible. Marking yourself down as a “Jedi” will not force the ABS to classify it as a religion – your Census is counted as if you did not answer the question. This dilutes the underlying truth.

    3) If you are concerned about the $450 million spent on placing chaplains into public schools (then telling them they cannot be religious), or the discrimination against homosexual marriage, or the intrusion into private medical decisions by superstitious ideas, or preventing people from dying with dignity, or the $3 billion of tax free dollars in the “purple economy” annually, then for god’s sake mark yourself down as “no religion”.

    See http://censusnoreligion.org/ for more information.

    • Glenn Capuano says:

      Hi Andrew, thanks for your interesting response. It’s good to see the upcoming Census generating some discussion.

      1. Unfortunately the ABS do need a classification for everything (in fact it’s one of their favourite activities, developing classifications), otherwise the Census data becomes unwieldy and impossible to process. The good thing is that everyone should be able to have an input into the inclusion and wording of the questions for 2016 – I’ve got a blog article coming up about just that.

      2. Agreed – everyone should answer the Census accurately, as I said in the article. But writing Jedi, or some other non categorised answer isn’t equivalent to not answering the question. It goes into the “Not Defined” category, which is included in the ABS standard output (the BCP) under “Other religious affiliation”. This is very different to “Not Stated”, which means the answer was left blank on the form.

      3. Certainly if people don’t subscribe to a particular religious belief, by all means put down no religion. However, “No religion” (technically, the “No religion, nfd” category) doesn’t necessarily imply atheism, as your website seems to suggest by encouraging people to mark it. If you class yourself as an Atheist, Agnostic, Humanist or Rationalist (which I’d guess most of your members would), there are subcategories of No Religion that provide for these more detailed answers. You need to tick “Other” and write your answer in, the same as with any religion that isn’t one of the main tickboxes (which are just based on the highest number of responses last Census). While some atheists and humanists may object to having to tick a box that implies having a religion, it is really just done that way for brevity of the form. Rest assured that any of these 4 responses do get coded to subcategories of “No religion” and are included in the broader count for this category.

  3. Glenn says:

    BREAKING NEWS: ABS in the leadup to the 2011 Census have released the number of Jedi from the 2006 Census – As far as I know this was never released before as the number was subsumed into the larger “Religious Belief not further defined” category. Apparently there were 58,053 people who wrote Jedi Knight on the form, a decline but not a substantial one from 2001, considering it was well out of the news by then.

    • krzystoff says:

      given the controversy and possibility for misunderstanding the options available, perhaps a more comprehensive range of answers would be preferable in future census forms; currently most people will just tick ‘no religion’, rather than entering a specific, thus giving you skewed statistics.

      I don’t believe most non-theist Australians know the difference between (agnostic, atheist, bright, freethinker, humanist, naturalist, rationalist, , skeptic), a simple explanation would be helpful if they are meant to fit in a proverbial ‘box’.

  4. Lachlan Shield says:

    Glenn, I’m not entirely sure that “writing Jedi… isn’t equivalent to not answering the question”; in my view it is ‘worse’. It’s extremely unlikely that any of the people answering in this way actually believe that they are a Jedi and are following the canons and traditions of their (alleged) faith. Thus, it’s deliberately answering incorrectly rather than not at all, but the practical outcome is actually worse from a data-integrity point of view because it actually affects the result, as you have demonstrated.

    • Glenn says:

      I can understand that point of view. However you could make the same case for those who leave the question blank – if they are skewed towards one particular cultural group it can significantly affect the result too.

  5. Gary says:

    How dare you presume that we Jedi do not have a deep seated belief in the Force! We have as much rationale for our belief as any other religion!

  6. Glenn says:

    Hi Gary,

    Good point! I did mention in the original post that I couldn’t see why the ABS thought Jedi didn’t meet the criteria for a religion. However I am rather skeptical that the 73,000 respondents in 2001 and 58,000 in 2006 were all true believers in the Force as you clearly are.

    I’d hope that genuine Jedi adherents such as yourself would be discouraging those just writing it in “for a laugh” (and who, based on the graph would likely normally be putting “No Religion”), so you can get a clearer picture of the penetration of the Force in Australian religious life.

    • Gary says:

      We’ll look at it when you discount all the non-participants who put down one of the old religions on their form based purely on what they were raised in rather than any current practice or belief.

  7. Janine Mudaliar says:

    It’s a bit difficult to see what all the fuss is about. The question is ‘optional’ anyway (though not sufficiently clearly designated as such). Therefore, no matter detail is entered, it cannot have any real importance in the bigger picture, as there would be a significant enough proportion of people who would choose not to answer (as they should, morally, choose not to answer any of the racialist and personal questions in the 2011 census).

  1. January 23, 2017

    […] in the 2001 census results, just over 73,000 people described themselves as Jedi, which is more people than identified as Salvation Army or Seventh Day Adventists, and only […]

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