BRISBANE Archbishop Mark Coleridge believes the latest census data showing a drop in religious affiliation suggests “the young are more interested in unorganised spirituality than organised religion, and that they aren’t as interested in denominations as their forebears were”.
Catholicism remains by far the most dominant religion in Australia with more than 5.2 million followers, however the 2016 census data shows a decline in religious affiliation, particularly amongst the young.
In 2016, 22.6 per cent of Australia’s 23.4 million population listed Catholicism under religious affiliation, compared to 25.3 per cent in 2011.
However the 2016 census shows that the number of people who listed “no religion” had risen to about 30 per cent, almost double the figure in the 2001 census.
About 13 per cent of Australians listed “Anglican” as their religious affiliation (second behind the Catholic Church), compared to 17.1 per cent in 2011.
For Archbishop Coleridge, who is leading the plans for a plenary council to discuss the future of the Church, the census data is nothing new.
“There’s nothing very surprising about the new census figues, which tend to confirm what we already knew,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that people, young or old, are less religious than they were; but it does mean that they’re religious in very different ways than in the past.
“And the Church needs to look carefully at that, lest the communication gap between believers and non-believers grow even wider.”
As well as reporting Catholicism in the census, Australians are becoming affiliated with other major religions in the past decade.
Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism have all significantly increased, while Buddhism has declined.
Archbishop Coleridge said the Church should consider the advice of a famous psychologist and consider the facts as “friendly”.
“They may not seem to be in the census figures just released – at least for religion, but our task may be to discover how these seemingly unfriendly facts are friendly, or at least no cause for panic,” he said.
What do Australian families look like in 2016?
The census shows that 44.7 per cent of families were couples with children, while 37.8 per cent were couples without children.
Another 15.8 per cent were one parent families, and 1.7 per cent were listed as “other family types”.
This data has barely changed since 2011.
The composition of Australian families are almost identical to five years ago.
The costs of housing in Australia has increased significantly.
In 2016, the median household weekly rent was $335, compared to $285 in 2011.
However the median household mortgage repayment has decreased over the past five years, from $1800 a month in 2011 to $1755 a month in 2016.
In 2016, 72.7 per cent of Australians spoke English at home, compared to 76.8% five years ago.
Mandarin, the second most spoken language, has jumped from 1.6 per cent in 2011 to 2.5 per cent.
Arabic has increased slightly (by 0.1 per cent) to become the third most common language in Australia, while Cantonese is fourth.
Census data shows one in four Australians are now born overseas.
The UK is the largest single source of residents born overseas, followed by India and New Zealand.
The data also confirms that during the last 25 years the vast majority of migrants arriving in Australia – eight in 10 – settle in capital cities.
Three out of every 100 people identify as indigenous.
Can the stats be trusted?
Federal ministers and the ABS have insisted the data can be trusted.
That is despite website outages which lasted almost two days during census collection last year, styming the attempts of many Australians to complete the census online.
It was the first time the Australian Bureau of Statistics had attempted to shift the massive survey online.
Notwithstanding the debacle, the response rates remained relatively high.
An estimated 96 per cent of occupied households completed census 2016, only slightly below the 96.5 per cent response rate of the 2011 survey.
“Thanks to the very high participation rate of Australians in last year’s census, and the (bureau’s) efforts to assure the data through its rigorous quality checks, the census will provide a comprehensive and accurate account of modern Australia,” small business minister, Michael McCormack said.