Last week, I mentioned that the results of the 2011 Australian census had come out and the percentage of people marking “No religion” had shot up to 22.3% of the population, making them the second largest demographic group.
Sounded pretty awesome.
But there may be good reason to doubt those numbers. In fact, non-religious Australians may be the largest demographic.
Here’s the gist of their argument:
Take a look at the raw data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics:
That line at the bottom says the total (100%) amount included all the people who skipped the question or marked it incorrectly.
What happens when you put those people in their own category?
They become the red bar (9.4%) in the following graph:
That’s now the fourth largest group. Now you have to wonder how many of those people are not religious? Presumably a good number of them. Tristan and Tom at the design blog think that’s a glaring oversight:
If a quarter of those people were actually not religious, for the first time ‘no religion’ would be the largest group on the Australian Census…
I ran my own calculations and actually found that the non-religious would still be in second place… but only by a fraction. (More specifically, 25% of the red bar would be 2.35%… add that to the current 22.3% number and you’d get 24.65%… still lower than the 25.3% of Catholics.)
But assuming that only 25% of the folks making up that red bar are non-religious seems like an under-estimate to me. Anyway, it’s all moot right now. But maybe a change in the way this question is asked the next time around (in 2016) could help clarify the situation.
Last year, the question looked like this:
As you can see, “No Religion” is kind of hidden at the bottom. It’s not hard to believe some people might have missed that option.
Tristan and Tom believe the question ought to look like this instead (and I agree that some variation of it would be a huge improvement):
It’s a small change, but we believe that it would increase the people answering ‘no religion’ in two ways. Firstly it would pick up people from the ‘not adequately described’ and ‘blank’ boxes. Secondly, it makes making people stop and think, ‘am I really religious?’ before answering.
There is no agenda in this other than accurate measurement. It’s important. We believe the current design promotes inaccurate reporting.
If we’re wrong, fine. But if we are right, it’s important.
Considering that public policy decisions are based on census results, the Australian government has a duty to make sure they’re getting accurate information. Right now, the system looks broken.