Tag Archives: census

Census 2013 – religious diversity

Statistics New Zealand has released preliminary figures for religious affiliation from the 2013 census.

The raw figures show for the major affiliations (Christian and No religion) the following:

Religious affiliation Number
No religion 1,635,348
Christian 1,879,671
Total Responses  4,343,781
Total People  4,242,048
Double Dipping?*  101,733

It is interesting to compare the last census figures with those for the previous four.

census-2013-1

As we can see, the godless trend has continued unabated.

One thing for sure – Christians can no longer claim to make up the majority of the country’s population.


*Double Dipping arises from people putting down more than one answer to the question. Eg – “Born again” and “Assembly of God.” It most probably occurs for the Christian, rather than No religious group. If this is the case we should adjust the Christian total to 1,879,671 -  101,733 = 1,777,938.

This would cut Christians as a proportion of the total population to 41.9%.

The No religion is accordingly 37.7%.

The other major religions have Hindu – 2.1%, Buddhist – 1.4% and Islam – 1.1%.

For more detail see 2013 Census where  tables of data can be downloaded.

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Census 2013: That religion question

Ben Heather, at Stuff, made some comments on the religion question in the NZ Census (see Census 2013: Taking Stock Of New Zealand Society) which need slightly deeper analysis.

He said:

“Atheism is tipped to continue its rise in this year’s census results, while those identifying as Christian will fall below 50 per cent.

In the 2006 census, just over two million people, or 55.6 per cent of those answering the religious affiliation question, identified with a Christian religion. In the 2001 census, the figure was 60.6 per cent.

Those ticking “no religion” rose from 29 per cent in 2001 to 34.7 per cent.”

Firstly, using data only for “those answering the religious affiliation question” can give the wrong impression if you extrapolate to the whole population. It assumes those who didn’t, or refused, to answer the question have the same distribution of affiliations as those who did. That’s unlikely to be the case.

Safest to express these figures as a percentage of the total population. In my 2008 article, God’s not as popular as we thought, I used that approach and said:

“In the 2006 Census 51% of New Zealanders described themselves as Christian. A total of 3.8% described themselves as Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim (the next three largest religions) and 32% declared no religion.”

However, I went further. In Is New Zealand a Christian nation? I mentioned the problem of double dipping by Christians:

“Apparently some Christians are so enthusiastic that belong to several different churches. I can believe that as I have a relative who used to attend two different churches each Sunday because it gave him two different experiences.

In 2006 140,000 New Zealanders claimed to be adherents of more than one Christian religion. This caused an overestimation of the proportion of Christians. When corrected for double dipping the 2006 census showed that:

53.1% of those answering the religious affiliation question were Christian, or

49.5% of the total population described themselves as Christian.”

So, true, “those identifying as Christian will fall below 50 per cent” in this census. But when double dipping was removed those identifying as Christians had already fallen below 50% in 2006.

What do you mean by “Christian?”

The article also quoted research by Victoria University religious studies teaching fellow Will Hoverd who is involved in the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Survey, which began in 2009. It concludes:

“The research suggests half of those ticking “no religion” are not atheist, and three-quarters of them believe in a god or spiritual life force.

I am keen to see results from this survey and don’t question that observation (although reference to a “spiritual life force” is problematic and can – usually does – give the wrong impression). However, it does give a misleading message as it ignores the beliefs of those who do tick a religion box. Because religious affiliation does not necessarily say anything about beliefs, including belief in gods.

The results presented in the Ispos MORI survey Religious and Social Attitudes of UK Christians in 2011  show the problem. This survey questioned people who recorded their religion as “Christian” in the 2011 UK Census.

One question was “Which is the one statement that best describes what being a Christian means to you personally?” Nine choices (including “prefer not to say” were provided. The figure below shows the responses.

I discussed the survey in my article  Belief and morality.

One cannot quibble with the Dr Hoverd’s main conclusion though:

“What we’re finding is a demographic shift away from organised religion.”

But that indicates the problem with the census religion question. Many people will tick “Christian” (or a denomination) purely because they think it’s what’s expected. Not because they belong to any church or religious community. And not because they have a specific religious belief.

That distorts the results. I think religion still has a lot more influence in our society than it should because of the assumptions made in surveys like the census. After all the census results will be used to argue for Christian privileges (eg. taxation exemption, local body rates exemptions, state ceremonies and lobbying of parliament).

Tick the “no religion” box if applicable

Here’s an idea – what about being honest. If you have no religion, or have stopped belonging to the one you inherited from your family, tick the “no religion” box.

Why does this matter? Well a more accurate census of religious affiliation will encourage policy makers and planners to produce social policies more in line with the population. Maybe if the true figures for religion were available our government might be more willing to remove religious ceremony from parliament and state functions. Or not be so lenient with dishing out public money purely on the basis of religious claims.

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Australian census confirms healthy trend

The early results from the Australian 2011 census have appeared. There has been a lot of comment on the trends for religion. The No Religion group has now moved to second place (22.3%), behind Catholic (25.3%) and ahead of Anglican (17.1%). And, the No Religion group is the only one of the major religious groups that has increased since the previous Census (2006) – all the other major religious groups have declined. I have summarised the data (from 2011 Census QuickStats: Australia) in the figure below.

This trend is just a continuation of that clear since earlier census results (see Secular twins and Non religious in Australia and New Zealand). And Australia still has some catching up to do with New Zealand. (In 2006 the No Religion was about 34% in New Zealand and 19% in Australia).  Although this might be at least partly due to the fact that in New Zealand we put the “No religion” choice at the top of the box while the Australians put theirs at the bottom (see Non religious in Australia and New Zealand).

I’ll return to this when the Australian detailed census data is published. My interest is to see the breakdown with respect to age. Previous results in Australia and New Zealand show that the “No Religion” choice is much higher for younger people (see Religious belief and age). And the recent Pew data for the USA show there was a sharp jump in non-belief among younger people in the middle of the last decade (see Sharp increase in “nones”).

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Sharp increase in “nones”

The American Values Survey Question Database  from the Pew Research Centre suggests that with the new century we may be seeing a marked change in the beliefs of Americans.

On the statement “I never doubt the existence of God” the number of people who disagree jumped from 10% in 2000 to 18% in 212. That is after being constant for the previous 15 years (see figure below).


But the data is even more dramatic when broken down into age groups. The numbers disagreeing have increased in all age groups, but the increase is most marked for the younger ages. The increase for the 18-29 years group was about 100% (from 18% in 2000 to 31% in 2012). And most of this increase occurred since 2005.

Perhaps those horrible Gnus have been having an effect after all.

The data for New Zealand is not so detailed. However, the figure below shows data from the last 3 census results – 1996, 2001, 2006. Here we see what appears to be a steady increase in those choosing “no religion” on the census form in all age groups. Again the effect is larger for the younger groups. About 45% of people below 40 years old now have no religion.

Last year’s census was delayed because of the Christchurch earthquakes. But I suspect we are going to see some barriers broken in the results it produces.

See also: Belief In God Plummets Among Youth (CHART) for US data presented in terms of “generations.”

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Taking the census seriously

Census time is almost upon us. Tuesday, 8 March is census day.

Every 5 years we get counted. The information is used for various official purposes and is available to researchers. It is obviously important that the information is accurate as it will be used by government and local body planners as well as researchers.

I guess very few of us have problems answering the census questions honestly. But the religion question does seem to embarrass some. Perhaps that’s why people have an “object to answering “option.

In particular people with no religion often feel compelled to claim one falsely. It’s considered by some to be anti-social to answer “no religion”. I guess that’s why my family has recorded various religions over the years – C of E, Presbyterian, Salvation Army. But my parents never belonged to a church as far as I could see.

Tick the “no religion” box if applicable

Here’s an idea – what about being honest. If you have no religion, or have stopped belonging to the one you inherited from your family, tick the “no religion” box.

Why does this matter? Well a more accurate census of religious affiliation will encourage policy makers and planners to produce social policies more in line with the population. Maybe if the true figures for religion were available our government might be more willing to remove religious ceremony from parliament and state functions. Or not be so lenient with dishing out public money purely on the basis of religious claims.

This year is also census year in the UK and Australia. (see The Census Campaign – If you’re not religious for God’s sake say so and Mark No religion) and  campaigns are underway in both countries to encourage people to answer the religion question more honestly.

Nothing is underway here. perhaps we are just to laid back. But it is worth being honest.

*Credit to Peter Jackson for “Come to your Census” graphic.

See also:
Is New Zealand a Christian nation?
Religious belief and age
“Interfaith” blindness

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Is New Zealand a Christian nation?

This question comes up from time to time. Those arguing that it is admit  the proportion of New Zealanders who are Christian is declining but claim it is still a majority.

A recent survey commissioned by the Bible Society (Bible Engagement in New Zealand) really doesn’t support this claim. Unlike the national census (which provides a wide choice of religions) this survey asked only “would you describe yourself as a Christian?” This survey of 3400 New Zealanders found 46% consider themselves Christian (45% answered no and 9% preferred not to say).

Of course, when you get figures like these close to 50% one can argue about how to deal with the “don’t knows” and “won’t says.” After all, one could make the situation look better by saying that 50.5% of those answering the question are Christian. This is often done with the census results. For example it’s often claimed that the 2006 census showed  55.6% of New Zealanders are Christian. But, more correctly, it was 55.6% of those answering the religious affiliation question, but actually only 51.2% of the total responses.

Double dipping

Double dipping also influences the figures. Apparently some Christians are so enthusiastic that belong to several different churches. I can believe that as I have a relative who used to attend two different churches each Sunday because it gave him two different experiences.

In 2006 140,000 New Zealanders claimed to be adherents of more than one Christian religion. This caused an overestimation of the proportion of Christians. When corrected for double dipping the 2006 census showed that:

53.1% of those answering the religious affiliation question were Christian, or

49.5% of the total population described themselves as Christian.

Take home message

So, although the 2006 census data are sometimes manipulated to claim almost 56% of the population are Christian, in reality only 49.5% were prepared to describe themselves that way. The 2008 Bible Society survey (46% Christian) appears to confim this.

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Non religious in Australia and New Zealand

Australian-New Zealand CensusHere’s an interesting question?

New Zealanders and Australians have a lot in common. We think of ourselves as sibling nations. We often tell jokes about each other (I must say, however, that Australian jokes about Kiwis usually involve sheep and don’t seem funny to me).

But look at the figures for religious affiliation taken from census data. Why are the “no relgion” results lower in Australia than New Zealand? And the “Christian results correspondingly higher?

NZ Religion question

(OK, we may have jokes about this – but seriously).

Well, have a look at the actual census questions about religion asked in the two countries.

Notice that the “no religion” choice is at the top of the list in New Zealand question (number 18 – grey) but buried at the bottom in the Australian question (number 19 – orange).

Do Australians opt for a religion in their census answers because they don’t , at first glance, notice the “no religion” option?

Does the Australian census overestimate religiosity?
See also:
Christianity – a declining population.

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Religious diversity includes “non-believers”
Trends in religious belief in New Zealand
New Zealand supports evolution
God’s not as popular as we thought