The recent survey commissioned by the Bible Society (Bible Engagement in New Zealand) provides some interesting information on the distribution of belief by age. The survey asked the question “would you describe yourself as a Christian?” It didn’t attempt to ascertain the numbers of people with other religions. However, as the numbers of New Zealanders with other religions is relatively small (only a few percent) the survey does give an indication of the situation for religion in general in New Zealand.
Almost 60% of respondents under the age of 44 answered No to the question and about 35% Yes. The proportion of Christians increased at older ages.
However, here is the interesting question:
Is the age distribution just what one might expect for changes in attitudes with age? Are older people more likely to become religious – perhaps because death becomes more real? Are younger people more likely not to be religious – perhaps because of natural rejection of social traditions?
Or, do these results indicate changes in society? Are younger people now more likely to reject religion? And will this pattern move to older people in the future? Will the proportion of Christians in the older age groups (over 45) decrease in future?
We can get an idea of trends over time by comparing New Zealand census for 1996, 2001 and 2006.
The numbers in all age group declaring “no religion” have been increasing over this time period. These numbers peaked in the 20-29 age group for each census.
However, one could argue that the “no religion” group is not declining with as they age. For example, while 34.5% of the 20-29 year group were not religious in 1996, 10 years later they were in the 30-39 year group of which 42.5% were non-religious. Similarly the “no religion” proportion of the 30-39 year group in 1996 (26.2%) had increased to 32.0% of the 40-49 year group in 2006.
Another question – do parents resist labelling their young children (0-5 years) with a religion? Or do the figures just reflect the age of their parents? Responses for the 0-5 and 20-29 years groups are similar, as are those for the 5-14 and 30-39 years groups.