The results for the 2011 Australian census came out today. We think the results of the religion question were (unintentionally) distorted by the design of the question. Specifically, with believe that the number of Australians who are not religious is greater than the number counted as ‘no religion’.
Counting correctly is important because census results will be used, at least to some degree, when making public policy decisions where religion is involved. The question was formatted like this:
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported the religious affiliation results in a table. On the surface, it seems that ‘no religion’ continued to get a bump. However, there was something hidden. The bottom of the table listed 100%. However, it had an annotation that that total…
“…includes inadequately described (supplementary codes) religions and people who did not state a religion.”
Strangely, there is not a row in the chart that lists how large this group is. We ran the numbers. Turns out it’s almost 1 in 10 people and the 4th largest group:
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. If you’re a strong adherent to a religion we think it would be unlikely you’d leave that question blank.
In a previous post we criticised the design of this question. The core of our argument was that the design reduces 2 question into 1 and hides no religion question down the bottom. This could partially explain the large ‘inadequate’ and ‘blank’ responses. It was for this reason that we proposed some alternate designs which we put to a public vote. Our final proposed redesign is revealed for the first time below:
This is not about activism, but appropriate measurement. Accurate measurement in the census is important. We think there is no malice involved from the ABS, but their design has promoted error that works against the ‘no religion’ option. Australia has changed and the design of the census does not reflect that.
Keep reading to hear our full story and proposal to the ABS.
Hit us on twitter @humansindesign or in the comments with your response.