Census 2016 shows Australia’s changing religious profile, with more ‘nones’ than Catholics


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The 2016 Census showed major changes in the ranking order of religious groups in Australia.
AAP/Tracey Nearmy

Gary D Bouma, Monash University

Every five years the census asks Australians: “What is your religion?”. Ten tick-box responses are provided, along with the option to write in some other response.

In 2016 Census, the first box was for “no religion”. This was not a secularist plot, but an acknowledgement that those declaring they had “no religion” were very likely to be the most numerous category, followed by Catholics.

Alongside those declaring they have “no religion”, Australia now has – in addition to a highly diverse bloc of Christian groups that are very internally diverse – five substantial religious communities (Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jews).

How religion in changing in Australia

The 2016 Census showed major changes in the ranking order of religious identification groups in Australia. “No religion” leads Catholic, then Anglican, Uniting, Muslim, Buddhist, Presbyterian and Reformed, Eastern Orthodox, Hindu, Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, and then Sikh.

It is important to note that to keep a stable percentage of the population from 2011 to 2016, a religious group had to grow by 8.8% – the national population growth rate.

Australia now has more Muslims and more Buddhists than Presbyterians; more Hindus than Baptists or Lutherans; and nearly as many Sikhs as Lutherans.

Among those groups attracting double-digit percentages of the population, there has been a continued rise of those declaring “no religion” to become the most numerous group (30.1%). Catholics are at 22.6%, while Anglicans – who had been nudged out of the top spot in 1986 – have now slipped from a high of 41% in 1921 to third place at 13.3%.

Among those groups attracting between 2% and 5% of the population, the Uniting church has declined to 3.7%, while Presbyterians (2.3%) are now behind Buddhists (2.4%). But both have been overtaken by Muslims (2.6%). Thanks to migration, Hindus continued their rapid rise to achieve 1.9%.

Among those groups clustered around 1%, Pentecostals remain unchanged (1.1%). Lutherans (0.7%) are down from 1.2% in 2011.

The two fastest-growing religious groups since 2011 are Sikhs, who grew by 74.1%, and the “Other Protestant” category, which grew by 79.8%. Both are now 0.5% of the population, and are more numerous than Jews (0.4%).

The Other Protestant category includes many who just wrote in “Protestant”, and those identifying with unaffiliated congregations. This category’s growth, along with that labelled “Christian not further defined” (to 2.6%), is an indication of the decline of the importance of denominational labels to Australians who prefer to just indicate they are Christian. This is also an indication of religious groups’ increasing diversity in Australia.

The Christian proportion of the population has fallen to just over 50%, down from 88% 50 years ago. More significantly, the British Protestant percentage has declined to about 20%, making it smaller than Catholics. This marks a major shift in Australian culture, which – until about 1990 – was resolutely British Protestant, with Anglicans, Presbyterians and Methodists dominant.

Not only has the proportion of Christians declined, it has become much less British Protestant. Australia’s religious life has changed beyond recognition from the 1950s and 1960s, when British Protestants comprised two-thirds of the population.

Many who were raised in those decades, including political and business leaders, still hold that form of Australia to be normal and expected. This expectation is not shared by those aged under 50.

Formerly dominant organised forms of religious life are attracting fewer participants and fewer who identify with them – but they are far from dead. While no longer dominant, they form part of a diverse array of identities and commitments that shape Australians’ lives.

When the full results become available, we will be able to see how many Australians identify with the myriad small groups – Zoroastrians, Satanists, Scientologists, witchcraft/wicca, and more.

What we can draw from these results

Neither those who would declare that Australia is a Christian country nor those who see the rise of those declaring “no religion” as the death knell of religion can take heart from this census.

Rather, the results show the diversity of Australia’s religious life. That only 9.6% refused to reply to this question – the only optional question on the census – tells us that religious identity is still of interest to Australians.

Also, declaring “no religion” does not mean that someone is anti-religious, lacking is spirituality, or an atheist. It means they just do not identify with a particular organised form of religion.

The response to the religion question provides an indication of a person’s cultural orientation and formation. Religion, culture and formation used to be overlapping and reinforcing categories. For example, Catholics were Irish, went to Catholic schools, and shared certain orientations. Presbyterians were British (Scots or Northern Irish), went to state or private schools, and shared certain orientations.

While this overlapping is no longer true, religious identity is far from meaningless. The census provides a moving series of snapshots of religious identity. But it does not tell us about religious belief, practice, or anything else about a person’s religious life.

The ConversationThe changing pattern of the diversity of religious identities is one indicator of a society’s degree of multiculturalism. On this measure, Australia is among the most diverse.

Gary D Bouma, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Census 2016 puts on display the increasing diversity in Australians’ relationships


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Much of the change in partnering in Australia has been in response to changing legal and social norms.
AAP/Alan Porritt

Edith Gray, Australian National University and Ann Evans, Australian National University

The types of romantic relationships Australians have, as well as the way they are recognised and measured, have changed dramatically in the last 30 years.

Much of the change in partnering has been in response to changing legal and social norms. Childbearing has been decoupled from intimate relationships by the widespread availability and use of contraception and the availability of abortion. Divorce is easier to access; women play a much greater role outside the home.

These and other forces have led to delays in marriage, increasing co-habitation (couples living together), and a larger proportion of the population who re-partner or have more than one relationship throughout their adult life.

Key trends

Results from the 2016 Census, released today, allow us to track marriage and co-habitation trends for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.

In 2001 and 2016, around 40% of Australians were classified as single. By age, this pattern declines until the mid-30s, and then increases in older ages due to divorce and widowhood.

The pattern is more obvious for women – particularly in the older ages, as they are more likely to experience the death of their partner.

There has been a slight increase in co-habitation overall to 10% of Australians, and a corresponding decrease in marriage to just under 50%.

What has changed the most in these relationship patterns is that co-habitation was predominantly confined in 2001 to people in their 20s and 30s. In 2016, cohabitation is also a significant feature for people up to their mid-60s.

Same-sex couples have been identified in the census since 1996. Over each successive census, the number of couples identifying as same-sex has increased. In 2016, 46,800 couples were same-sex – an increase of 39% from 2011.

The 2011 Census showed people in same-sex couples are, on average, younger, more educated, employed in higher-status occupations, and have higher incomes.

The 2011 Census allowed same-sex couples to identify their relationship as a marriage for the first time. As would be expected, the numbers are small (1,338) – but they will rise over time, as more people travel overseas to marry legally and in the event Australia legislates for marriage equality.

What all this means

The rise of co-habitation has led to speculation that marriage is out of fashion and could disappear altogether. Our research shows the institution of marriage is not outdated. The nature of marriage is evolving, as people manage the changing role of intimate relationships in their lives.

It is also true that the marriage equality debate will lead to a re-imagining of marriage for both homosexual and heterosexual couples. Most Australians still marry, and there is no evidence that marriage will disappear – despite predictions.

However, while marriage may have lost its practical importance, its symbolic importance still seems to be high. In many ways, getting married is still seen as a marker of achievement.

Perhaps new ways of forming relationships and childbearing are not a threat to marriage: they may be a signal of the fact that more options are now available.

The distinction between same-sex and heterosexual relationships is complicated by the measurement of gender itself.

For the first time, the 2016 Census allowed non-binary gender as a response to the question of sex, although people identifying as other than male or female were required to use the paper form or to request a special online form. This would have significantly affected the overall count of people who identify as neither male nor female.

There were 1,300 validated responses that indicated a sex other than male or female. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has also estimated an additional 2,400 people responded both male and female on the paper form.

The ConversationOverall, the census shows a decrease in the proportion of Australians who are married, and an increase in co-habitation of both heterosexual and same-sex relationships. We predict this will continue to rise in future censuses.

Edith Gray, Associate Professor, School of Demography, Australian National University and Ann Evans, Associate Dean (Research Training), College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Census 2016 reveals Australia is becoming much more diverse – but can we trust the data?


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The ABS estimates that as of December 2016, the Australian population was around 24.4 million.
AAP/Alan Porritt

Nicholas Biddle, Australian National University

According to data released today, there were 23,401,892 people who were counted in Australia on the night of the 2016 Census who were usually resident in Australia.

After adjusting for undercount and adding back those who were overseas on census night, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimates that as of December 2016, Australia’s population was around 24.4 million.

Our population is growing – and fast. But can we trust the numbers?

Issues with quality

For the first time, the ABS asked an independent assurance panel to look into the census’ quality. While this was prompted by the failure of the online portal on census night, and the privacy concerns expressed by many, the additional scrutiny is a good idea.

The panel reported that the 2016 Census is “of comparable quality to 2006 and 2011 and comparable collections internationally”. It reported there was a lower net undercount (that is, people who were missed from the census) in 2016 than there was for 2006 and 2011.

This means, for the most part, we should believe the results from the 2016 Census. All data has its limitations. But it would appear that with the information we currently have the data is robust enough, at least at the national level.

But, as always, the devil is in the detail. For some individual questions, there was a high level of non-response – and that needs to be taken into account.

How we’re changing

The data tell us quite a lot about who we are as a nation, and how our characteristics are changing. The 2016 Census reveals that Australia is becoming much more diverse – in language, country of birth, Indigenous status, and religion.

In the 2011 Census, 69.8% of people reported being born in Australia. This declined over the past five years to 66.7%.

The percentage of Australia’s current population who were born in England has also declined, from 4.2% to 3.9%. Simultaneously, there was a dramatic increase in the percentage born in China – 1.5% to 2.2% – and born in India – 1.4% to 1.9%.

This increase has been driven in part by the higher rate of mortality of the Australian- and European-born populations, who are much older than more recent migrant groups. More importantly, though, most of our more recent arrivals are from Asia. Combined, those born in India, China and the Philippines made up 33% of all those who now live in Australia who arrived between 2007 and 2016.

Australia’s Indigenous population is also growing – quite rapidly.

In 2016, there were 649,171 usual residents who were identified as being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. For those who answered the question, this represents an increase from 2.7% to 3% of the total Australian population.

When undercount is adjusted for, the ABS estimates that 786,689 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should have been counted in the census. This is a growth of 18.8%, concentrated mainly in New South Wales and Queensland, and is much faster than the growth of the non-Indigenous population.

There was also a decline in the proportion of people who spoke English as their main language at home (76.8% in 2011 to 72.7% in 2016), an increase in those reporting no religion (21.8% to 29.6%), and a very rapid increase in the number of same-sex couples (a 39% increase to 46,800 couples).

One result that needs to be treated with care is the high and increasing rate of non-responses recorded to some of these questions. There were 1,622,692 people recorded as “not stated” for the country-of-birth question, and 1,411,491 who were recorded as not stated for the Indigenous status question. This was an increase of 35.7% and 33.3% respectively from 2011, which was much faster than the growth of the total population.

That doesn’t mean that all or even most of these records are people refusing to answer the question. Rather, most are records that have been imputed due to missed households or individuals.

However, we do need to make sure we carefully exclude these records from our calculations. And more research is needed to uncover whether and why there are a number of people not answering individual items.

Implications for policy

Leaving these issues aside, there were some interesting findings that touch on ongoing policy debates.

The Gonski 2.0 school funding reforms passed parliament last week. But there was actually a decline in the proportion of infants/primary school students who were attending a non-government school since the last census, from 32.7% to 31.8% between 2011 and 2016.

There was a slight increase in the proportion for secondary school students (42.1% to 42.8% in non-government schools). This means the proportion across all schools was roughly stable (36.5% in 2016 compared to 36.7% in 2011).

There is more to the school funding debate than simply government versus non-government. But the census results show the move to the non-government sector seen over previous periods may have slowed, or even reversed.

Another important current policy debate relates to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). While the census isn’t ideal for understanding changes in rates of disability, there is a very important question about whether people have a “core activity need for assistance”.

One particular result stands out – the rapid increase in the number of children and youth reported to have such a need. Between 2011 and 2016, the proportion of those aged 19 years or under reported as having a core activity need for assistance increased from 2.1% to 2.7%, excluding the not-stated population.

These proportions might not seem large. But it is an extra 38,209 individuals, or a 34.5% increase in children and youth with a core activity need for assistance.

Finally, even if the policy responses weren’t large, the most recent federal budget and election both had a heavy focus on housing affordability and home ownership. The census doesn’t have information on house prices, but it does show that the median mortgage payment in Australia in 2016 was A$1,755 per month. Sydney, Darwin and Canberra all have median payments of $2,000 or more.

Over the longer term, the proportion of the Australian population who own their home outright (that is, without a mortgage) has declined from 41.1% in 1991 to 31% in 2016. Much of that decline has been made up for by an increase in the proportion renting (either from government or a private landlord) from 26.9% to 30.9% over the same period.

These are just a snapshot of 2016 Census results. For the most part, we can be confident that, in the words of the Australian Statistician David Kalisch:

The 2016 Census data provides a detailed, accurate and fascinating picture of Australia and our communities.

The ConversationFor individual data items, we need to be more careful and circumspect. But we now have a much better idea on our nation and how it is travelling.

Nicholas Biddle, Associate Professor, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

First results from the 2016 Census paint a picture of who the ‘typical’ Australian is


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The attention on the 2016 Census until now has been mostly negative.
AAP/Joel Carrett

Nicholas Biddle, Australian National University

In a country as diverse as Australia, it is impossible to identify a set of characteristics that defines us. However, with today’s release of data from the 2016 Census, it is possible to identify some of the common characteristics, how they vary across states and territories, and how they are changing over time. The Conversation

Australia undertakes a compulsory long-form census – where detailed information across several areas is required of every individual respondent – every five years.

So, what did we learn from the first set of results? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS):

The 2016 Census has revealed the ‘typical’ Australian is a 38-year-old female who was born in Australia, and is of English ancestry. She is married and lives in a couple family with two children and has completed Year 12. She lives in a house with three bedrooms and two motor vehicles.

Australia is getting a bit older; the typical Australian in 2011 was aged 37.

How do today’s results vary across Australia?

First, age varies by state and territory.

With variables like age, we often find the “typical” value by taking the median. In essence, we (statistically) line everyone up from youngest to oldest, and find the person who is older than half the population but younger than the other half.

In Tasmania, the median age among 2016 Census respondents was 42. But in the Northern Territory, it was 34. Those in Australian Capital Territory were also quite young (median age 35), whereas those in South Australia were relatively old (40).

The NT population’s relatively young age is influenced by the very high proportion that identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

While we don’t have updated estimates for that proportion (either for the NT or nationally), the data released today show that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is quite young. The median age nationally is 23. New South Wales and Queensland have the youngest Indigenous population, with a median age of 22.

This release also tells us something about the different migrant profiles across Australia. Nationally, the most common country of birth for migrants is England. And the median age of migrants is much older than for the Australian-born population (44 compared to 38).

The most common country of birth for migrants living in Queensland was New Zealand; in Victoria it was India; in NSW it was China. There may not be too many more censuses until the most common migrant nationally was not born in England.

Ahead of the forthcoming federal budget, there has been a lot of media and policy attention on housing affordability. Today’s release of census data points to some subtle differences across Australia that may influence policy responses.

Nationally, the most common tenure type is owning a three-bedroom home with a mortgage. In Queensland, however, renters make up a roughly equal share of the population. But, in Tasmania and NSW, more people own their own home outright. And in the NT, renting is the most common tenure type.

In a finding that won’t surprise many, the typical female does a bit more unpaid work around the house than the typical male. The most common category for males is less than five hours a week. The most common for females is five to 14 hours.

We won’t know how this compares to paid work for a while yet – or whether these differences vary depending on age.

What future releases will tell us

The profiles released today offer us limited information. But the census remains one of Australia’s most important datasets.

When detailed data are released in June and then progressively throughout the rest of 2017, we will be able to dig deeper into small geographic areas or specific population groups.

We will be able to ask if there are pockets of Australia with significant socioeconomic disadvantage, and if it is worsening. We will be able to hold governments accountable for the progress we have made on the education, employment and health outcomes of the Indigenous population.

And we will be able to test whether the languages we speak, the houses we are living in, and the jobs that we are doing, are changing.

But those questions rely on a high-quality census.

The attention on the 2016 Census until now has been mostly negative. There was increased concern related to data privacy, the failure of the online data entry system on census night, and staff cuts at the ABS.

In October 2016, the ABS estimated the response rate to the 2016 Census was more than 96%, and that 58% of the household forms received were submitted online. But what matters more than how many people filled in the census and how they did it is whether the responses given were accurate. We therefore need to see a lot more interrogation of the data before taking the results at face value, but we can remain cautiously optimistic.

The ABS will be hoping that now some data is released, attention will shift to what the results tell us about Australian society. It is to be hoped the data will be robust, the insights will be newsworthy, and policy and practice will shift accordingly.

We won’t know this for sure until the first major data release of data June 27 – the data released today were just a sneak peak.

Nicholas Biddle, Associate Professor, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Census 2016: Women are still disadvantaged by the amount of unpaid housework they do


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Research shows women consistently trade time in employment for greater time in domestic work even when their resources are on par with men.
f1uffster (Jeanie)/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Leah Ruppanner, University of Melbourne

The first release of data from the 2016 Census shows the typical Australian woman spends between five and 14 hours a week doing unpaid domestic housework. For the typical Australian man it’s less than five hours a week, suggesting women still assume the lions’ share of the housework. The Conversation

National statistics from 2006 showed that women account for the majority of unpaid domestic work time, spending 33 hours a week in domestic work. Before we write these off as the bemoans of well-resourced first world problems, it is important to note that housework and the mental labour associated with its organisation have real and long-term economic consequences, particularly for women’s employment.

Economists often factor in housework as one dimension of a person’s total amount of time in a day. People weigh all of their time demands – work, family and leisure – and make rational trades between these to maximise resources and efficiency. The problem with this rational-choice approach, research shows, is women consistently trade time in employment for greater time in domestic work even when their resources are on par with men. This is in a society that equates femininity with domesticity.

Women spend more time in housework even when they are single and working full-time. Although single women do slightly more housework than single men, it’s during singlehood that housework time is most equal by gender. When women start to cohabit, their housework time goes up while men’s goes down, regardless of their employment status. These gender gaps in housework linger over time and widen even further when children enter the picture.

Some economists have argued that the traditional division of housework and employment maximises each partners’ skills and increases efficiency within a marriage. Feminists have spent decades challenging this argument by pointing out being a woman does not make one more skilled in scrubbing toilets.

And, the fact that women remain intimately tethered to the home based on gender role expectations, means women lose out on economic resources, a deficit that compounds over the life course. Australian women have some of the highest part-time work rates in the world, often reducing work time to part-time when children are born. A second child could knock a woman out of the labour force for close to a decade.

This means women’s total lifetime earnings are reduced, it also shortens their career ladders and results in superannuation earnings that are significantly less than their male counterparts. In fact, one in three Australian women retire with nothing in their superannuation.

The lessons from these relatively small daily housework numbers – 43 to 120 minutes – are major, showing deep and persistent mechanisms of inequality. The challenge is not housework alone but the way in which housework is embedded within broader care responsibilities.

Women are expected to stay home with young children and, while they are home, they might as well put on a load of washing. Women who work full-time are not absolved of this guilt as they remain responsible for organising the childcare and reminding family members to pick up their socks and wipe down the benches.

All of this labour requires mental energy to ensure the hamster is alive and the dishes are unloaded. It is no wonder Australian women are increasingly feeling time pressed, stressed and depressed.

One way to tackle this time squeeze is to create institutional structures that encourage men and women to share domestic work more equally. Because children often bring a mountain of laundry, providing extended parental leaves that are required to be shared by both parents is a start.

Sweden has a use-it-or-lose-it approach to parental leave requiring men to take a portion of the paid leave or the family looses this leave. The result is that men share housework more equally over the life course. Men today are more interested in sharing childcare responsibilities so the economic benefits to maternal employment from this equal sharing is a win-win for all.

Leah Ruppanner, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.