Religious affiliation

SD Sophie Davies Public Seen by 441

Data on religious affiliation has various uses. It is used to trace the changes in values and belief systems in New Zealand society and to assess the need for various types of religion-related or religion-sponsored services. Māori, Pacific peoples, and other ethnic groups also use the data as this information is an important aspect of their culture.

However, religious affiliation is frequently identified as a variable of decreasing relevance, most recently in consultations with key census users for the 2013 Census.

There are several reasons why people question the ongoing relevance and inclusion of religious affiliation in the New Zealand Census. Firstly, census data on religious affiliation is not widely used by government agencies or deemed highly important for policy development, evaluation, or monitoring. Secondly, New Zealand is becoming increasingly secular, with just under half of the population either stating they have no religion or that they object to answering the question.

However there is a continuing demand for this data from religious organisations, academic researchers, Māori and Pacific communities, and the media. Without census data on religion, any changes in this significant cultural area would be difficult to monitor.

Our current recommendations relating to religious affiliation

  • We recommend that religious affiliation be included with no changes in the 2018 Census.

See our preliminary view of 2018 Census content (pages 25-26) for a more detailed discussion on religious affiliation information

See 2013 Census information by variable for information on the religious affiliation variable


Phil (Facilitator) Wed 29 Apr 2015 9:46PM

Nau mai haere mai.
Welcome to our Loomio discussion about the measurement of religious affiliation in 2018 census. We are really keen to hear your views about this important topic and to understand what matters to you and why. I'm Phil Walker and will be facilitating this discussion. I look forward to engaging with you all over the coming weeks.


Dan Martin Thu 30 Apr 2015 1:09AM

I believe this question on religious affiliation is important on a number of fronts. First it tracks the changing nature of religious (or non -religious) belief of New Zealanders which no other survey does. This helps us understand our changing collective identity which is very important. Secondly, because it provides low level data, it informs local communities how to best support it's different religious groups. I think this is a vital and very useful question to remain in the Census.


Amala Wrightson Thu 30 Apr 2015 3:52AM

I agree. For minority religious groups such as mine (Buddhists) it is useful to know how many people identify as Buddhist. I'd like to see more detail -- many "denominations" are listed for Christians, but not for Buddhists. Even having the three main branches of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana would be helpful.


Max Dillon Coyle Fri 1 May 2015 1:08AM

Kia ora Phil, I agree this is important to track and should be included in the census as NZ's traditional religious affiliations decline. I do think it is essential that the inclusion of Jedi, Pastafarians and other secular religions are included should they meet the numbers threshold. Arbitrary decisions based on which imaginary being is more official is untenable.


Phil (Facilitator) Fri 1 May 2015 4:57AM

These are interesting points - what do others think?


Chris Squire Sat 2 May 2015 3:25AM

Is it just me or are the very bland and inclusive messages from Phil from a real person or an automated response? I find them quite useless - I wouldn't bother with these.


Guy Marriage Sat 2 May 2015 9:13PM

Religion has always been an important category, and I think we need to be as fine-grained here as people want to be. This is especially important as we move towards being the most secular nation on earth.


Guy Marriage Sat 2 May 2015 9:22PM

To me, not permitting Jedi as a an option last census was a mistake. If people want to identify as Catholic, despite not going to church on Sundays, we let them tick that box and assuage their guilt by saying that they are still a Catholic. Same thing goes for the Anglicans, despite no sign of any of them actually attending church more than once a year. But they have a belief in a religious system that they feel a part of.
The notional move to secularism however does not mean that we are a wholly irreligious people however, and Jedi is a prime example. Marking yourself as Jedi does not mean that you are just a fan of Star Wars, but is more about not believing there is an old man with a beard on a cloud, casting judgement, but more that there is some Life Force within living things that cannot be fully explained by science. Being Jedi is not the same as agnostic. We should recognize it as a category that people may want to identify with. Rumour has it, that it got many, many adherents in the census, but was effectively shut down as these were presumed to be a joke. It's not a joke - its a serious alternative to a Christian based belief system.


Kay Sun 3 May 2015 7:17AM

People can be a member of more than one religious group and should be able to claim their affiliations. Also Statistics shouldn't privilege some religions over others, e.g. recognising Catholics but not Druids or pagans.


Jonathan Godfrey Sun 3 May 2015 10:18AM

There is considerable scope for improvement in this question: for starters, not confusing terms or lumping them together without due care for standard definitions. For example, the last Census lumped together "Atheist" with "Agnostic" - these terms are most definitely not synonymous and it is most improper to suggest that they are. Atheists argue that God does not exist, whereas Agnostics are uncertain or non-committal about it (some suggest that they sit on the fence, with Atheists on one side, Theists on the other). I would suggest that these two terms be separated out and never mixed together again.

Taking into account other comments (Amala's in particular) another possible improvement would be to have a series of tick boxes that have a free-text field associated with it, in which people as asked to insert their denominations. Thus Amala would be able to tick "Buddhist" and write in the particular denomination, just as I could tick "Christian" and write in "Catholic".
A tick box for "Other" could allow for a wide range of responses in it's associated free-text box.

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