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Census crowdsource

June 22nd, 2012

I’ve seen a bunch of reports from the census saying that the proportion of Australians reporting “no religion” has increased substantially, to around 22 per cent. I’d be interested to know if this is mainly a cohort effect (non-believing younger generations entering the population) or the result of people who previously reported a religious affiliation switching to reporting none. I’d be surprised if much of it was the result of people abandoning previous religious beliefs, as opposed to nominal affiliations, but I don’t think the data allows a test of this.

I just had a brilliant idea for how to motivate this effort. The first person to give a good answer gets to nominate the next topic for crowdsourcing. As a hint, the ideal way to answer the question would be to compare responses from a given age group in 2006 with the same group, now 5 years older, in 2011, adjusting, if possible for migration effects.

Update: The evidence, collected in the comments threads, suggests that cohort and conversion effects each account for about half of the shift.

The prize goes to David Barry, with honorable mentions to Aldonius and Luke Elford. I’ll give Dave first shot at proposing a new topic (in comments), but also invite suggestions from Luke and Aldonius. Meanwhile, I’m going to suggest something a bit more challenging for crowd-sourcing. If anyone would like to use the data to develop a simple model to project likely changes in stated Census affilations over the next two decades, with a specific focus on the question “When will (Census reported) Christian affilation become a minority response in Australia”, I’ll add a write up and send it as a joint post to The Conversation, the new(ish) academic-focused website.

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  1. June 22nd, 2012 at 18:09 | #1

    my wife has stopped asserting her religious belief simply because she’s afraid of ridicule

    my cousin has stopped because she’s afraid of how the data might be used (think Nazi and census data)

    my kids have stopped because they think the government has no right to ask such questions

    many of our friends (immigrants) have stopped because to them it does not make sense in this environment

    we know a few Muslims who don’t report their religion because they are afraid of persecution seeing as how Muslims are treated by the sycophantic media

    the list goes on and on

    your questions is flawed because you deftly move from “reporting none” to “abandoning [..] belief” as if they were the same thing

    consequently i am the first one to point out the flaw in your thinking and earn the prize by default

    pop

  2. cbp
    June 22nd, 2012 at 18:27 | #2

    @pop His question is not flawed, its entirely relevant. You have simply given a the third possibility – that some people are lying.

    A fourth possibility would account for those people who thought they were religious but have decided they are not. There’s an awful lot of “non-practicing religious people” or “practicing non-religious people” who have decided to come down on the no-religion side, without necessarily making changes to their lifestyle.

  3. Oliver Townshend
    June 22nd, 2012 at 18:43 | #3

    There was an active facebook campaign (and presumably twitter and blogs) to accurately record no religion rather than saying Anglican for example just because you were christened and not to say Jedi etc and effectively vote informal.

  4. Benjamin O’Donnell
    June 22nd, 2012 at 19:00 | #4

    I, for one, ticked the “no religion” box this time but ticked “Anglican” last time. My beleifs hadn’t changed much – I’ve been an atheist more or less since I was 17 (though recent years have made more far more aggressive in my atheism). Last time I ticked “Anglican” out of cultural allegience and the fact that I’d been baptised and confirmed Anglican. But the post 9/11 new atheism and the facebook “no religion” campaign made me decide to tick “no religion” this time.

  5. June 22nd, 2012 at 19:12 | #5

    Oliver, there was also an objectionable viral campaign that Muslims were going to rig the census to increase their proportion so that you should declare your Christian religion. Also not sure why Peak Oil’s wife should be afraid of ridicule for answering a question on a confidential census form?

    The JQ proposal is probably correct but maybe limited. I can’t remember but guess I answered ‘anglican’ on my early census responses but am now ‘no religion’ as a confirmed atheist. My 28yo niece recently told me she was chastised by her mother for suggesting she would put ‘no religion’ although I gather she wasn’t persuaded.

    I think that brings up whether we are getting cultural or religious information from this question? Had I not been a confirmed atheist I could easily continue to tick the ‘anglican’ box even if I had no particular religious interest or belief at all.

  6. John Quiggin
    June 22nd, 2012 at 19:17 | #6

    I remember the anti-Jedi campaign, though I don’t imagine it moved the numbers to a measurable extent.

  7. June 22nd, 2012 at 19:39 | #7

    Deleted – please, nothing more on this thread

  8. Sam
    June 22nd, 2012 at 19:58 | #8

    There’s an obvious way to sort out the jedi problem at least. Just assume that everyone who answered jedi is really an atheist (this is a pretty good, but not quite perfect assumption). Then we define;

    no. true atheists=no. professed atheists + no. professed jedis.

    Then compare the number of true atheists this census to last. Since there was a drop in the number of professed jedis this time compared to last, but an increase in the number of professed atheists, this explains at least part of the question of where all the extra atheists came from. I haven’t looked at the numbers though, so I can’t speak to the size of the effect.

  9. David Barry
    June 22nd, 2012 at 20:08 | #9

    As best I can tell, we won’t be able to make a religion v age group table for the 2011 data until late August. (I could be wrong, since I only started playing with the census this evening.)

    So instead I took the 2006 religion v age group table (in 5-year groups) and tried to estimate what the “no religion” percentage should be in 2011, assuming that it’s purely a cohort effect and that migration has no impact on it. That is, I took the percentage for 0-4yrs in 2006 (27.5%) and multiplied by the number of 5-9yrs in 2011 (1,351,921) and so on up the age groups.

    That leaves the question of what percentage to apply for the 0-4yrs group in 2011, who hadn’t been born yet in 2006. To start with I just set it equal to the 5-9yrs group.

    So… you add all those up, and the estimate is a 19.7% “no religion” in 2011, up from 18.7% in 2006. Even if you increase the 2011 0-4yrs “no religion” to 35%, the estimate would be only 20.2%.

    The actual percentage for 2011 is 22.3%, so it looks like there’s been quite a bit of switching to no religion.

  10. Criag Somerton
    June 22nd, 2012 at 20:59 | #10

    The popularity of Dawkins and Hitchens has emboldened many of the fence-sitters, or those whose faith has been waning, to finally declare their hand and say they no longer have any faith.

    Perhaps also a private backlash against the right-wing religious extremism pervading the modern political sphere.

  11. David Barry
    June 22nd, 2012 at 21:11 | #11

    With the same procedure as above (applying the same percentage for the 2011 0-4yrs as the 2006 0-4yrs):

    Catholic: projected 25.8%, actual 25.3%
    No religion: projected 19.8%, actual 22.3%
    Anglican: projected 17.8%, actual 17.1%
    Uniting: projected 5.4%, actual 5.0%
    Presbyterian and Reformed: projected 2.7%, actual 2.8%
    Eastern Orthodox: projected 2.7%, actual 2.6%
    Buddhism: projected 2.1%, actual 2.5%
    Islam: projected 1.9%, actual 2.2%
    Baptist: projected 1.6%, actual 1.6%
    Hinduism: projected 0.8%, actual 1.3%
    Lutheran: projected 1.2%, actual 1.2%
    Pentecostal: projected 1.1%, actual 1.1%

    Not stated: projected 11.4%, actual 9.4%

  12. aldonius
    June 22nd, 2012 at 21:21 | #12

    David Barry :
    As best I can tell, we won’t be able to make a religion v age group table for the 2011 data until late August. (I could be wrong, since I only started playing with the census this evening.)

    planeray on reddit found it yesterday:
    http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/CensusOutput/copsub.NSF/All%20docs%20by%20catNo/2011~Community%20Profile~0/$File/XCP_0.zip
    Sheet X 08c
    or alternatively https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?key=0Ar-xHCmgECd2dFZXSDh6U3JESDg0V0ZrMkhuaTNqa2c&output=html

  13. Sam
    June 22nd, 2012 at 21:26 | #13

    The problem with a crowd-sourced effort involving creative ways to get interesting results out of publicly available information, is that it quickly becomes a David Barry-sourced effort. The problem with having the prize be that the winner gets to pick the next topic, is that it just means Dave picks the next topic, which he will also win. This is functionally equivalent to letting Dave investigate things, and tell the internet, which (you can bet (and indeed, Dave could tell you the odds on)) he was going to do anyway.

    For this reason, I propose a “best apart from Dave” category of prizes.

  14. June 22nd, 2012 at 21:27 | #14

    Go Buddhism you good thing!

    Hang on, now that i think about it maybe i did put ‘buddhism’ as my census response?!

  15. Sam
    June 22nd, 2012 at 21:42 | #15

    So the drop (over projected) of “not stated” is 2%. The gain (over projected) of “no religion” is 2.5%.

  16. Abhoth the Unclean
    June 22nd, 2012 at 22:02 | #16

    I’ve always put down Methylated Spiritualist but I don’t see the stats for this. Perhaps i should come clean and admit that Abhoth, who dwells in Vormandreth has no followers, no believers but is the scource of all that is dirty – but there I go talking about myself again ….

  17. paul walter
    June 23rd, 2012 at 10:13 | #17

    “Death of (cultural) Memory” as Hobsbawm put it. It is all part of the Schumpeterian “creative destruction” Ken Parish is discussing at Club Troppo.
    Baudrillard is worth a look, also, as to the dislocation of meaning from language in a hi tech, exchange value society: the bourgeoisie itself, in “obscuring ” itself, after Barthes, ultimately lobotomised and consigned itself to the same false consciousness simulacra as its own pleb subjects, thus the system reproduced itself on a tendency, despite the verification of history implicit in events since Marx, predicted by him.
    There is no metaphysics, just confusion and subjectivity.

  18. BilB
    June 23rd, 2012 at 10:55 | #18

    The religious “belief” question ignores the concept of “allegiance”. Even though I am doomed to burn in hell for ever, being a Climate Change Action proponent…arguably my current real religion, I categorise myself religiously as “Christian Sympathiser”.

    Allegience is the real line on the road when it comes to a contest.

  19. Luke Elford
    June 23rd, 2012 at 11:08 | #19

    The behaviour of the religion-not-stated category is a bit odd. For the total population, it rose from 9.78% in 2001 to 11.20% in 2006, before falling to 8.55% in 2011. Those reporting a religious affiliation fell from 74.74% in 2001 to 70.13% in 2006 and 69.14% in 2011. Those reporting no religion increased from 15.48% in 2001 to 18.67% in 2006 and 22.30% in 2011.

    So, comparing 2006 and 2011, the main movement is from religion not stated to no religion, with only a small fall in the percentage reporting a religion. However, comparing 2001 and 2011, the movement is clearly mostly from reporting a religion to reporting no religion.

    I’m going to compare 2001 and 2011 census data, in part because such a comparison is not so complicated as the 2006 to 2011 comparison is by how we interpret the not stated category (half-hearted atheists, or religious nuts scared of persecution?), and in part because the data I’ve looked at so far is only disaggregated into (at best) ten year age groups.

    The data support the idea of people losing their religion, most noticeably in early adulthood, but also through the rest of their lives.

    First, the cohort who were aged 15-24 in 2001 and 25-34 in 2011:
    2001 2011
    Religious 70.83% 62.20%
    No religion 19.14% 28.64%
    Not stated 10.03% 9.17%

    Next, the cohort who were aged 25-34 in 2001 and 35-44 in 2011:
    2001 2011
    Religious 70.88% 68.21%
    No religion 19.38% 23.57%
    Not stated 9.74% 8.21%

    The cohort aged 35-44 in 2001 and 45-54 in 2011:
    2001 2011
    Religious 74.29% 72.28%
    No religion 16.21% 19.75%
    Not stated 9.50% 7.98%

    The cohort aged 45-54 in 2001 and 55-64 in 2011:
    2001 2011
    Religious 76.69% 75.11%
    No religion 14.07% 16.99%
    Not stated 9.23% 7.90%

    The cohort aged 55-64 in 2001 and 65-74 in 2011:
    2001 2011
    Religious 81.88% 80.42%
    No religion 9.69% 11.79%
    Not stated 8.43% 7.79%

    The cohort aged 65-74 in 2001 and 75-84 in 2011:
    2001 2011
    Religious 84.49% 82.47%
    No religion 7.12% 8.73%
    Not stated 8.38% 8.80%

    Still no accounting for migration, obviously. I suppose we should also consider the possibility of differing death rates for religious and non-religious people.

  20. John Quiggin
    June 23rd, 2012 at 12:00 | #20

    Looking at the tables linked by Aldonius, it’s notable that (reported) Christians are only a bare majority of those aged 0-34. I think my next crowdsource effort will be a projection of when Christians (as reported in Census) become a minority. Off the top of my head, I’m guessing 2026.

  21. June 23rd, 2012 at 12:07 | #21

    Trying to think if I know any Australians who attend a church/mosque/temple type thing and I can’t think of anyone. Not even my grandmother who, according to the emails she chooses to foward to me, appears to be some sort of facist. Not that I don’t know anyone with weird supernatural beliefs, it’s just that they chose not to do anything organised about with them.

    Sure, each time my sister wants to get married she will join a church beforehand for the purpose of getting married in it, but I don’t think that really counts.

    What has dropped a lot faster in Australia than box ticking on census forms in Australia is religious building attendance. The number of churches around here that are now night clubs or bridal shops are evidence of this. Another interesting thing is that within groups of particular religious building attendees, there appears to be a decreasing level of agreement about the nature of their supernatural entities and what those creatures want, with a number of attendees answering survey questions in a way that technically makes them not a member of the religion they profess to be part of. Of course this tends to be true for many organizations that have bothered to codify what is required to be part of the group.

  22. Donald Oats
    June 23rd, 2012 at 13:07 | #22

    Then there’s the creation of new religions, such as the flying spaghetti monster.

  23. Donald Oats
    June 23rd, 2012 at 13:08 | #23

    …from pastafarianism.

  24. Luke Elford
    June 23rd, 2012 at 13:58 | #24

    Okay, some further analysis. Let’s take the sub-group of the population aged 25-74. In 2001, for this age group, 76.37% reported a religious affiliation, 14.43% reported no religion, and for 9.20% religious affiliation was not stated. In 2011, for the same AGE group (note: NOT cohort), 70.60% reported a religious affiliation, 21.14% reported no religion, and for 8.26% religious affiliation was not stated.

    If no-one aged 15-64 in 2001 had changed their religious views (or at least answers), and assuming that immigrants shared the religious views of the corresponding native born cohort, what would the statistics for 2011 have been? The answer is that 74.11% would have reported a religious affiliation, 16.40% would have reported no religion, and for 9.49% religious affiliation would have been unstated. This implies that most of the change is accounted for by people changing their religious views (or perhaps the effects of migration), rather than younger generations being less religious.

    What if we restrict our attention to the group aged 35-74, thereby excluding from consideration the big changes in religious attitudes/reporting that occur in early adulthood? For this group in 2001, 78.13% reported a religious affiliation, 12.84% reported no religion, and for 9.03% religious affiliation was not stated. In 2011, for the same age group, 73.05% reported a religious affiliation, 18.95% reported no religion, and for 8.00% religious affiliation was not stated.

    If no-one aged 25-64 in 2001 had changed their religious views, and with the same assumptions about immigrants as before, in 2011 75.07% would have reported a religious affiliation, 15.59% would have reported no religion, and for 9.34% religious affiliation would have been unstated. So, around half of the change in reported religious beliefs is accounted for by generational change.

  25. June 23rd, 2012 at 13:59 | #25

    With regards the query from JQ and my first comment there may also be an influence when the younger age groups actually leave home. Gen Y staying longer in the family home has been an often reported trend. Have checked with my niece and she actually changed religion between census dates because in 2006 she was at home and her mum filled in the form and determined religion for her.

  26. June 23rd, 2012 at 14:45 | #26

    My $0.02 goes with the cultural/allegiance drift hypothesis.

    Factors include: A decline in the perception of organised religion as a generally benign, or even mildly beneficial, force in society. The rise in aggressively political christian fundamentalism (‘Hillsong’, Exclusive Brethren, Family Fist etc..). The barely concealed religious dimension to our recent/current wars of choice.

    I get especially irked by the labelling of the resultant “no religion” portion of the population as “militant/aggressive atheists”.

  27. David Barry
    June 24th, 2012 at 16:58 | #27

    If the topics for crowdsourcing have to be related to the Census, then I’m happy to leave the next topic to Luke or Aldonius.

    If the topic can be on any subject, then I would be interested in seeing how much global research funding goes towards different diseases. My goal here is to see if research funding into a disease is roughly proportional to the global burden of the disease, or if there are relatively under- and over-funded areas; the former might then be the best place for individuals to donate to, if they want to support medical research.

    The global burdens are on the WHO’s website: http://www.who.int/healthinfo/global_burden_disease/estimates_regional/en/index.html I don’t know where I’d find funding statistics. As a first step, I’d be happy with just US/EU government agency funding data. For instance, the National Cancer Institute has a nice table here, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/NCI/research-funding

  28. Freelander
    June 24th, 2012 at 19:02 | #28

    Those possessing religious beliefs ought rightly to be far to ashamed to admit it.

    The question ought to be removed as the data are unlikely to be accurate and why humiliate those unfortunates so afflicted?

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