Damned Statistics of the Saved…

I subscribe to Philip Hughes Christian Research Association journal “Pointers”. For those who like statistics, there are wonderful facts and figures that make you “go figure”. This graph above is based on material collected from the 2006 Census and the 2002 Wellbeing and Security Survey.

The original in Pointers only had the first two categories: Percentage of Australians who Identify with a Christian Denomination and Percentage of Australians who attend Christian Worship Monthly or More. I have added in the third category, corelating the two figures, because I noticed a difference in the “trend” of both worshipping and identifying. You will see that there is not a smooth decline in the percentage of identifiers who also attend in the under 65 age groups. Rather, more of those who identify with Christianity in the 25 to 34’s and 45 to 54’s actually attend regularly than of those who identify in the 15 to 24’s and 35 to 44’s.

I wonder why? Or is there no meaning to this?

In any case, there are clear declines in the under 65’s in all categories. Hughes puts this down to the radical societal changes of the 60’s and 70’s. He is probably right. Take 40 years of the age group and you will see the correlation. Also, I wonder too whether the higher attendance rate for the +65’s isn’t as much to do with community as faith? I think of my parents, who were in their mid 20’s in the 1960’s, and for whom all their social life was around the Church. Nothing has changed, and it still is the centre of their social life now that they are in their mid-60’s. For younger folk, there is obviously today many more social opportunities.

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3 Responses to Damned Statistics of the Saved…

  1. Athanasius says:

    I’ll toss in a couple of gross generalisations.

    The 55-64 age group would have been in their teens and early 20s during the 60s, and drank long and deep of the “counterculture”. They’re aging hippies who hate “The Man” and authorities of any kind, including churches.

    The low 35 to 44 particpation might be due to having kids. Small ones are hard to take to church, while bigger ones can resist.

    Anyone else have their own pet theories/prejudices?

  2. Peregrinus says:

    Notwithstanding the wobble, from 15 to 65 there is a general upward trend in the proprtion of identifiers who participate. I suggest that this may be at least partly accounted for by people becoming more aware of/more appreciative of what their particular religious identification has to offer. Christianity’s take on reality may simply become more appealing and engaging as we progress in maturity and life experience.

    To take just one example, what Christianity has to say about the meaning and signficance of suffering may resonate more with us when we have actually experienced suffering, and need to come to terms with it. And the longer we have lived, the more likely it is that our life will have contained episodes of suffering, grief and loss.

    If I’m right, it’s not necessarily the case than in thirty years’ time the 65-74 cohort will display the participation rates that the 35-44 cohort currently displays. The same individuals will be involved, but their participation rate will tend to rise as they age.

    That doesn’t explain the wobble, though. Why does participation by identifiers fall back a bit at 35-44, recover and then fall back again at 55-64?

    I think Athanasius may have it. The 35-44 group may have children whom it is inconvient to bring to church, or children who they are bringing to sporting or social activies at a time when they might otherwise be going to church. By the time they get to the 45-54 age bracket, their children are old enough to be left at home alone, or to get themselves to their sporting and social events, so Mum and Dad can both go to church more easily if they want to.

    That does suggest that at least a portion of the identifiers regard it as important to go to church themselves – or, at least, they want to go to church themselves – but not necessarily important to bring their children, since they accord a greater priority to their children’s sporting and social engagements than they do to church attendance.

    It also doesn’t explain why they fall back again at 55-64. As Athanasius suggests, that may be a residual 1960s distaste for institutions, but it would be interesting to know if this is also manifested by the 55-64 cohort in other, non-religious contexts.

    The other point worth noting is that participation by identifiers rises markedly between 15-24 and 25-34. When we leave college and get a Proper Job, it seems, and for the first time actually have a few spare shillings and are (at least initially) still free of the obligations of parenthood, our churchgoing rises. I confess I find this a bit surprising.

  3. Schütz says:

    The thing that I never really know about these sorts of statistics is whether or not the characteristics shown for a given age group are predictions or descriptions. A survey taken in ten years time might show that the identification and practice (eg.) of 65-74 year olds will be the same as it is now for 55-64 year olds. I suspect that this would in fact be the case.

    In other words, it has less to do with “life-cycle” issues, and more to do with the prevailing culture and mores at the time the individuals went through their maturing years.

    It is significant that there has not been a correspondingly dramatic lowering of church participation as one goes down the scale from 64 to 14 as there was in simply going from 74 to 64.

    Given all this, then I suspect that (from these figures) we will see a further lowering of attendance at church, BUT the effect will be to lower the average age of worshippers, as the high level attenders who were teenagers before the 1960’s grow older and die, and the more aggregate numbers of worshippers in the other age groups come up the ranks.

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