What is the state of religion in Australia?
The religion answers on the Census always give an interesting insight into Australian society, and the 2016 Census is no exception. We’ve heard about ‘no religion’ being on the rise but there are some interesting stories about religion that arise when we drill down into the data to look at it for smaller geographic areas.
As referenced in Simone’s blog about how no religion became the most common religion, the “No Religion” category (which includes Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists and Rationalists, as well as those who just marked ‘No Religion’) increased markedly, and now makes up 30% of the Australian population (more if you exclude those who didn’t state their religion, which is an optional question). This was up from 22.3% in 2011. Partly this is due to the shift away from Christian religions in society, and partly due to the change in the wording of the question, which saw No Religion move to the top of the list, the first option you can mark.
Religion in Australia
As with a lot of Census data, the information is more interesting when you drill down to smaller geographic areas. Let’s start with states and territories. Here is an overview of the broad religious groupings in each state.
Broad religious groupings by state, 2016 Census
|State/Territory||% Christian||% Non-Christian||% No Religion||% Not Stated|
|New South Wales||55.2%||10.1%||25.4%||8.8%|
|Australian Capital Territory||45.4%||8.6%||36.6%||8.6%|
We can see that New South Wales is the most religious state or the “least non-religious state”. It has 55.2% Christian, the second-highest, after Queensland, and 10.1% non-Christian, the second-highest over Victoria. And only 25.4% of the population nominated “No Religion”. This is likely driven by a large number of immigrants into Sydney. Immigrants generally are more religious than the wider population, with the exception of Chinese immigrants. There is also still a strong Protestant tradition in rural NSW.
The highest rate of “No Religion” is in Tasmania, at 38.1%. This is over 8% higher than the Australian average, making Tasmanians the least religious people in Australia. The rate of Christian religions is lower than the national average but not exceptionally low, but the rate of non-Christian religions is less than half the next lowest. This is likely due to lower migration into Tasmania.
In general, young people are less religious than older people, so it seems odd that Tasmania, the oldest state, is also the least religious. Hobart, which is the youngest part of Tasmania, is the least religious state capital as well, the only one to top 40% no religion.
Broad religious groupings by capital city, 2016 Census
|% Christian||% Non-Christian||% No Religion||% Not Stated|
|Australian Capital Territory||45.4%||8.7%||36.6%||9.3%|
The second-highest proportion of no religion is in Adelaide, which is somewhat amusing since it’s known as the “City of Churches”.
Sydney and Melbourne make up the largest share of non-Christian religions, due to high migration into these cities. Most of these are comprised of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism, in that order.
Non-Christian religions by capital city, 2016 Census
|Australian Capital Territory||2.5%||2.6%||2.5%||0.2%|
Sydney and Melbourne make up the largest share of all of the major non-Christian religions. Sydney is highest for Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, while Melbourne is the highest for Judaism.
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