Simple question becomes complicated

The Australian Census 2021 will take place on August 10 (ABS)

For the past 100 years, Australians have been asked to identify their religion in the census. Yet the seemingly simple question – what is the person’s religion? – is increasingly contentious. Source: Sydney Morning Herald.

Researchers know some respondents will answer based on their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), while others will answer based on cultural identity.

Liz Allen, a demographer at the Australian National University, said it was common for people to respond according to the religion of their family upbringing rather than their current beliefs or practices. She said the current census question doesn’t reflect religiosity or whether a person practices that religion.

A spokesperson for the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which runs the August 10 census, said the question is about a person’s “affiliation to a religion” and part of a section about cultural identity.

However, the ABS website also states the information is used “by religious organisations and government agencies to plan and deliver services, and incorporate religious practices within community services, such as education, hospitals and aged care facilities.”

The Rationalist Society, Humanists Australia, the Atheist Foundation of Australia and others have chipped in $50,000 to the Census21: Not Religious? Mark ‘No Religion’ campaign, which will flood social media this week with messages such as “If you don’t practise what they preach, mark ‘No Religion’” and “Lapsed Catholic? Mark ‘No Religion’”.

An ABS spokesperson said it had received a range of submissions on the 2021 Census, including suggestions to remove the question but did not make these changes “because it would affect the continuity of the data”.


What the religion question in the census really measures (By Caitlin Fitzsimmons, Sydney Morning Herald

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