NCLS Research

Something beyond this life

Many Australians agree there is something beyond that makes sense of it all

When asked if 'there is something beyond this life that made sense of it all', twice as many Australians agree as disagree (44.6% vs 21.8%). Close to a third of Australians are non-committal; they neither agree nor disagree (33.5%).

Figure 1: Agree or disagree? “There is something beyond this life that makes sense of it all”

Source: 2009 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes.
Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

As an indicator of a spiritual dimension or a divine presence beyond this life, almost half the people surveyed (44.6%) agree or strongly agree that there is something beyond. A third of Australians neither agree nor disagree (33.5%). In fact more people choose this neutral or uncertain position, than disbelieve that there is something beyond. Around a quarter of Australians (21.8%) disagree or strongly disagree that there is anything beyond that makes sense of it all.

In this fact sheet:

Agree or disagree: “There is something beyond this life that makes sense of it all”

More women believe in something beyond

Figure 2: Attitudes to ‘Something beyond this life’ by Sex

Source: NCLS Research, 2009 AuSSA.

Sex: More women than men believe in something beyond this life (53% of women as compared with 35% of men).

Among women, around three times as many believe there is something beyond than do not (53% vs 16%).

While more men agree (35%) than disagree (28%), the largest group of men remain undecided about a spiritual dimension (37%).

When it comes to strength of opinion on the issue, women are more likely to strongly agree (20% vs 13%) and men more likely to strongly disagree (12% vs 4%) with the idea of something beyond that makes sense of it all.


Young uncertain or non-committal

Figure 3: Attitudes to 'Something beyond this life' by Age

Source: NCLS Research, 2009 AuSSA.

Age: Young people aged 15-29 are least likely to agree there is something beyond that makes sense of it all (38% vs ~47% for those aged 30 plus).

Being uncertain or non-committal is most common for the youngest age group and declines with age (from 36% to 31% of those aged 70+).

Those aged 15 to 29 years are also most likely to reject the statement, which contrasts with 30 to 49 year olds who have the lowest percentage who disagree or strongly disagree (26% vs 18%).

When it comes to strength of opinion on the issue, women are more likely to strongly agree (20% vs 13%) and men more likely to strongly disagree (12% vs 4%) with the idea of something beyond that makes sense of it all.


Education makes no difference

Figure 4: Attitudes to 'Something beyond this life' by Education

Source: NCLS Research, 2009 AuSSA.

Education: A person's levels of education makes no difference to their view on whether or not there is something beyond.

While the percentages do vary for groups who have achieved different levels of education, further tests found no evidence that these differences were statistically significant.


Australian-born undecided

Figure 5: Attitudes to 'Something beyond this life' by Ethnicity

Source: NCLS Research, 2009 AuSSA.

Ethnicity: When comparing people born in Australia and overseas, the patterns are relatively consistent with the whole population. For both groups, more people accept there is something beyond than do not.

Those born in Australia are more likely to be undecided about a spiritual dimension than those born overseas (34% vs 31%).

Those born overseas express firmer opinions, with higher proportions who both strongly agree or strongly disagree.


Religious and non-religious views mixed

Figure 6: Attitudes to 'Something beyond this life' by Religion

Source: NCLS Research, 2009 AuSSA.

Religion: People who say they 'have a religion' express higher levels of spiritual belief, with 62% of them agreeing that there is something beyond this life versus 9% not.

Interestingly, almost a third of religious people are uncertain about whether there is anything beyond this life that makes sense of it all (29%).

Non-religious people are more likely to believe there is nothing beyond this life (38% do not agree there is anything beyond). However, a significant proportion of non-religious people still do believe in something beyond this life (24%).

This clearly reinforces the notion that many who do not count themselves religious may still consider there to be a spiritual dimension to life.


Differences by Attendance

Figure 7: Attitudes to 'Something beyond this life' by Attendance

Source: NCLS Research, 2009 AuSSA.

Attendance: Church attendance is very strongly related to the belief that there is something beyond that makes sense of it all.

In fact, nearly all those who attend weekly or more often agree (96%), compared with 78% of those who attend at least monthly, 50% of infrequent attenders, and 27% of non attenders.

The less often a person attends church, the more likely they are to be uncertain or non-committal.

However, non-attendance does not automatically mean disbelief. Four in ten people who never attend church adopt the neutral or uncertain position. Some 27% of those who never attend agree there is something beyond that makes sense of it all, while 32% do not agree.

Data Source:

The International Social Survey Program (ISSP) is an ongoing survey designed to monitor changes in society across a range of countries. In 2009 the ISSP was undertaken in Australia by the Australian National University via the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (AuSSA).

The survey included a standard component on religion, as well as customised questions regarding religion and spirituality which were commissioned by a consortium that included NCLS Research.

The sample comprised 1718 adults across Australia.

Evans, A. (2009) [computer file], The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, Australian Social Science Data Archives, The Australian National University, Canberra.


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