Sense on the Census

The 2006 National Census data has just been released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with a number of interesting details. What is also interesting is the way the media has put a spin on certain parts of the Census material. Going by some media reports, you would think that the nuclear family in Australia is nearly extinct, and that Christianity has about had it. But with a bit of number-crunching, and closer examination of the figures, it can be seen that the headlines are a bit misleading.

Consider the issue of the family. One newspaper put it this way: “nuclear families make up less than half of all households”. But is that actually the case? Not quite. Households comprised of couples with children are in fact just 45 per cent of the total. At face value, that would seem to suggest that nuclear families are in the minority.

But if the nuclear family is defined as any group of people related by blood, heterosexual marriage or adoption – which is the traditional understanding of the term – then the figure rises considerably. For example, if a couple has children who have since left home, then they would not be included in the “couple with children household” category. But many such households would exist.

Other scenarios would be if a spouse has died, or two sisters are living together, or married couples who do not have children, and so on. So the nuclear family is not quite finished yet. It is still the norm, and it is still the majority. Indeed, as the ABS puts it, “About 5 million families were counted in the 2006 Census. Couples with children continue to be the most common family type.”

One parent families are at 15.8 per cent of the population, a slight increase from 15.4 per cent in 2001. And other types of family also changed little in number, hovering at 1.7 per cent.

As to marriage, 49.6 per cent of the population are married, down slightly from 51.4 per cent in the 2001 census. Those who are separated or divorced make up 11.3 per cent, a slight increase from 2001 when the figure stood at 10.8 per cent.

Those who are widows comprise 5.9 per cent of the population, a little less than the 6.2 per cent of the last Census. Only 33.2 per cent have never been married, which is a slight increase from the 2001 percentage of 31.6. But presumably many of these people will some day get married. So in terms of numbers and percentages, it can be argued that the institution of marriage is still alive and well.

Consider also the state of religion in Australia. Again, headlines can be misleading, telling us that Christianity is on the decline. Well, only slightly. In the 2006 census, a full 64 per cent of Australians labelled themselves as Christians. That is a bit lower than the figure of the last census, done in 2001, at 68 per cent. So a slight downward change has taken place. But Christians are still a clear majority, indeed, almost a two-thirds majority.

Those who classified themselves as having no religion made up 18.7, which is a small gain from the 2001 figure of 15.5 per cent of the population. They remain as a small but growing minority.

Some of the smaller religions have made some gains. Hindus now number 148,000, comprising 0.75 per cent of the population. Buddhists are gaining in numbers, with almost 420,000, or just over 2 per cent of the population. Asian immigration would explain part of this growth. Islam has grown to 1.7 per cent of the population, with around 340,000 Muslims, thanks in part to large families.

As to Christianity, the figures are much as expected: mainline denominations are still in decline, with the liberal Uniting Church losing lots of members, now at 1,135,000, down from 1,335,000 ten years ago, in the 1996 Census. That is a loss of 200,000 people. The Anglicans are down some, with 3,715,000 members, or 19 per cent of all Australians. And the Catholics are about holding their own, numbering 5,127,000, (or 26%), which is a slight gain.

The big gains are among groups such as Baptists and Pentecostals, although these two still are small in overall percentages: 1.6 and 1.1 per cent respectively. Thus the more conservative, and Bible-based Protestants, continue to grow, while the more liberal denominations continue to decline in numbers.

So all in all, the natural family is still very much in the majority in Australia, and the Christian religion is still clearly in the majority. Immigration changes seem to account for most of the changes in religion, while the family unit remains more or less steady, with small changes regularly occurring.

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16 Replies to “Sense on the Census”

  1. Hi Bill.

    An additional comment which I saw on the news page comments for the Census data was to the effect that
    a) since the religion question was optional, the results are less rigorous than the remainder of the Census
    b) Christians who declined to put themselves into a denominational category were not reported by the media. Do they therefore represent part of the shifting percentages?

    John Angelico

  2. Agree with your analysis Bill, but if we accept at face value 64% of Australians as being Christians then why is the place so ungodly and getting worse by the day? The most likely explanation being that many of that 64% only claim some allegiance to Christianity in deference to labeling themselves as having no religion. The reality is that many, perhaps most of that 64% self identifying as Christian together with most of those who claim ‘no religion’ would be more accurately described as evolutionary (secular) humanists. If people were surveyed on their specific beliefs and then placed in the appropriate worldview categories, I think we would see that the evolutionary humanists are the largest religion in Australia and the Christians only a minority. The 64% majority Christian figure only gives weight to the atheists claim to be the persecuted minority.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  3. Thanks Ewan
    There is no question that perhaps most of that 64 per cent would not be very committed or biblically based.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  4. Dear all, I managed to get on the BBC radio programme “Any Answers ” the other week and was challenged by Jonathan Dimbleby that Christianity is a minority religion, world wide – let alone in Britain. I wish I had to hand the figures from any one of these sites:
    Ewan, I don’t believe the Evolutionary Humanists are able to make the claim that they are being persecuted as a minority when like Mr Dimbleby they claim we are in the minority! Unless this is a classic case of being totally inconsistent and selective. They cannot have it both ways. This, by the way, is the argument being put forward by the gay community. It is not equality they want; it is to completely run the Biblical family out of town.
    David Skinner, UK

  5. Bill’s comments and statistics were very interesting. I was interested to read the blog by David Skinner. The homosexual community in Australia often claims 10% of the population. This is incorrect and a left-over from the discredited “Dr” Kinsey. If they had 10% membership, they would be forever conducting surveys on the matter. The two largest surveys on this subject were conducted by the Guttmacher organization in Seattle, Washington (59,000 males interviewed over two years) and the Welcome Trust in the UK. They arrived at similar figures:- a bit under 2% for males and 0.5 for females. Surveys done in Europe came up with very similar figures, except in Norway, where the figures for homosexuals were lower still, for both males and females. This would suggest that the claim of 10% for Australia is a figment of someone’s imagination.
    Frank Bellet, Petrie Queensland

  6. In discussing evolutionary humanism we cannot dismiss its trojan horse, homosexuality; it will be with its enforced public acceptance that the doors will be thrown open to all other perversions. So here are some more valuable statistics in the numbers game:
    David Skinner, UK

  7. David Skinner introduced a very interesting website above, on the percentages of homosexuals in the community. Another gross exaggeration is the number often claimed (not so much recently) on the attendance figures at the Sydney homosexual mardi gras. In the past you went from one TV station to another, you would hear variable figures going from 500 thousand to 600 thousand to the best of all 700 thousand. Simple arithmetic will prove all these numbers to be false. The route of the parade takes in 2,500 metres (2.5km). Think of one front line along that distance. If you had 2 people in each metre, the front line (provided it was full) would have 5 thousand people. If they were 6 deep on the footpath, there would be 30 thousand on on footpath. If there were a similar situation on the other side, there would be a total of 60 thousand, if all positions were filled. Besides a claim of 700 thousand makes the ridiculous claim that the mardi gras, attracted more people the the total atendance at the Melbourne Cup, the AFL and NRL grand finals, plus the January attendance at the Australian tennis championships. I successfully had a letter, such as this published in a mainstrean newspaper. It must have had an effect, because a prominent announcer promoting the parade said on air that there would be 500 thousand watching the Gay Mardi Gras, but added somewhat sheepishly, “That includes those watching it on TV”.

    Frank Bellet, Petrie, Queensland

  8. David, I have noticed certain atheists, whilst arguing with Bill in other places on this blog, claiming to be a persecuted minority. Indeed it is duplicitous of them to argue that way.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  9. Dear Brothers in Christ, I must confess that I have a strong temptation to name drop and quote this or that, but the fact of the matter is that there is a real war on, with an enemy who, though invisible, is made visibly manifest by what is taking place within our nations. I hope that I don’t see Bill’s site simply as place to have my voice heard, but that we would each one of us contribute, however we can in this deadly war.
    Ewan, I believe the numbers quoted for homosexuality are grossly exaggerated, but the causes of homosexuality are many and various, some of which can be cured through psychotherapy. Joe Nicolosi from NARTH has written a book which must offer hope to sufferers of this CONDITION:
    The worrying thing is that homosexuality, bisexuality and transexuality can also be caused through societal factors, as witness Ancient Greece and most spectacularly with Sodom and Gomorrah. I believe we are witnessing the homosexualisation of western civilisation now – which will make it even harder for the homosexual to break from his or her bondage.

    David Skinner, UK

  10. I’ve been blogging on the religion stats over at and one of the interesting things is the inaccurate media reporting over the evangelical stats for Sydney. Noting the surge in Pentecostal numbers the media has concluded that evangelicalism is going great guns, but Pentecostalism is only one strand of evangelicalism and when you note that the Sydney Anglicans are dominated by Evangelicals then it starts looking real messy real quick. Be interested in discussing this more with interested people.

    Matt Stone

  11. To Ewan McDonald – we have a dear Christian friend who spent some 2 years in PNG where the average church attendance is 95% each Sunday. She said that despite this, that the place is actually going backwards spiritually. Shows how important it is for us to be doers of The Word rather than just hearers only.
    Ian Brearley

  12. I would love to see someone do some hair-parting analysis on some of those figures.

    For example, I think there are two trends at work amongst NSW Anglicans. 1. Decline in the older, once dominant group. 2. Growth amongst the younger group (based around Sydney?) Is there any anlysis that could prove or disprove this idea? Which trend is going to prove stronger?

    Should we beat ourselves up about church growth not keeping up with population growth when all our population growth is from immigration? (Birth rate is half death rate) Sure it means there’s mission work to be done, but it’s not the death knell many make it out to be.

    Is it possible to do a rigourous analysis of church growth based on some kind of measure of liberal/conservative? (within denominations as well as across) What would this reveal?

    I agree, things aren’t as bad as many (inside and outside the church) want to suggest.

    Thanks for your interesting articles Bill.

    Michael Hutton, Ariah Park

  13. What should we do about the Atheist Foundation of Australia’s campaign to get people to tick “no religion” in the census box? Should we urge people with a nominal Christian background to at least choose something? The AFA themselves say that the decision will affect future government planning and funding. Some Christians are forwarding “scare” emails, while other Christian organisations are telling people not to warn others.
    Thanks for your advice, Marjorie Emm, Camden

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