Australian Bureau of Statistics to consult on religious classifications

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has started consultation on a major review of data it collects on religions.

 

The Religion Question

The ABS undertakes regular reviews of standards to ensure questions reflect the changing nature of Australian society. According to the ABS, Although the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG) was updated in 2016, it still reflects the original 1996 version based on the social environment in Australia at that time.


The Australian Bureau of Statistics has started consultation on a major review of data it collects on religions.

The ABS undertakes regular reviews of standards to ensure questions reflect the changing nature of Australian society. According to the ABS, Although the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG) was updated in 2016, it still reflects the original 1996 version based on the social environment in Australia at that time. 

The review, which includes a look at the associated Religious Affiliation Standard (the Standard), will be guided by consultation with stakeholders from religious groups and data from the 2021 census to offer a standard that is more reflective of contemporary society.

ABS documents discussing the scope of the review identify the relative level of sub-classification in Christian and non-Christian religions as a significant area for reform.

Currently, the standard includes a “pick list” with seven Christian denominations, but only broad categories for Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Although participants are able to fill out any religion in the “other” category, the inclusion of a pick list compels some respondents to make a choice rather than write which religion they most closely identify with, according to the agency.

“The pick list was designed to make completing census forms easier and is similar to other census questions (e.g. Country of birth),” the ABS said.

“However, feedback indicates that people not affiliated with any of the groups in this list feel excluded.

“For example, people affiliated with the Macedonian Orthodox religious group felt they were being asked to mark the Greek Orthodox box because it was in the pick list, and Macedonian Orthodox was not,” the agency explained.

The review will also try to answer whether “secular beliefs”, like atheism and agnosticism, should continue to be distinguished from no religion, and address inconsistencies in the way data for different religions and denominations is coded by the ABS.

The new ASCRG will be released in December 2023, with the new standard expected to be applied in the 2026 census.

Public consultations will run to 18 November, to be followed by additional post-consultation stakeholder engagement. More detailed information is available on the ABS Consultation Hub.

 

Australian Bureau of Statistics

 


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