After decades of rapid growth, the number of Australians marking “no religion” on their census forms has for the first time surpassed Catholicism as the most common answer to a prompt in the country's 2016 Census about religion, according to data released on June 26. If all Christian denominations are considered together, they would make up just over half of respondents. The number of respondents who identified as nonreligious — 30.1 percent — almost doubled from 15.5 percent in 2001. Less than 1 percent identified that way in 1966, the year Australia lifted its “White Australia Policy,” which opened up immigration to non-Europeans and kicked off broader demographic changes. Australia's population has also more than doubled since then. The census is conducted every five years.
The trend away from religiosity in Australia is likely to continue, as the bulk of growth in the category is in the 18-34 age bracket. Those older than 65 were most likely to identify as religious — and Christian in particular, as non-Christian religious groups tend to find representation in younger immigrant populations. Men were also more likely to say they were nonreligious than women (32 percent vs. 28 percent). The secularizing trend has increased in recent years. Roughly 2.2 million more people identified with “no religion” in 2016 than in a previous census in 2011. The earlier increase was 1 million from 2006 to 2011.