‘No religion’ option in prime spot in Aussie census form

For the first time, Australia’s national census form is to have the “no religion” box at the top of the options for religious affiliation.

In the previous census in 2011, “Catholic” was the top option, with “no religion” at the bottom of the list, below a large “other please specify” box.

The change came after rationalist and sceptic groups lobbied the Australian Bureau of Statistics, following the 2011 census.

The groups argued the change would improve accuracy.

In the 2011 census, 5.4 million people picked the “Catholic” box and a total of 13.1 million Australians (61.1 per cent) indicated their religion was some type of Christianity.

Meanwhile, 4.7 million (22.2 per cent) of Australians picked “no religion”, or wrote down agnosticism, atheism, humanism or rationalism.

The next Australian census is in 2016, with results being known the following year.

A change in the percentage of people affiliating as Christians could impact Australian government spending programmes, such as school chaplaincy services.

When a similar change was introduced into the New Zealand census, the country’s Christians lost their position as the majority and the number of people recording no religion jumped from 35 per cent to 42 per cent, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Placing the ‘no religion’ box at the top of the list could swing the results significantly, according to Associate Professor Roger Wilkins at the University of Melbourne, who produces the annual Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey.

“People are looking for the first option that they think they can fit into . . . those sorts of people who are not strongly committed one way or the other are particularly prone to being influenced by the order of responses,” he told Fairfax Media.

Managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton, said the order of answers on the census form was irrelevant, but he did expect to see a continuing decline in the number of Christians.


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