Insights from the 2021 Australian Community Survey
Some generations grew up going to Sunday school or hearing the Christian faith taught in some form. So which age groups do you think are most familiar with Christian teaching and values, or actually believe in God or a higher power? We might have some assumptions about which age groups are most ‘religious’, in knowledge or belief.
Researchers at NCLS Research regularly explore Australians' familiarity with Christianity and whether they believe in God or a higher power. In our most recent results from the 2021 Australians Community Survey (2021 ACS), we are interested to discover that despite the 65+ year age group being the most familiar with the Christian faith, the younger age groups express higher levels of belief in God or a higher power.
Overall, more than half of Australians say they are familiar with the Christian faith (56%). This is comprised of 22% of Australians who say they have a strong understanding of Christianity's teachings and values; and another 34% who say they are familiar with most of the teachings. In contrast, some 44% say they have limited, little or no familiarity.
However, age groups differ.
When indicating whether they had a strong understanding of, or were familiar with most of Christianity’s teaching and values, older Australians aged 65+ were most familiar (67%), followed by Australians aged 18-34 (56%) and those aged 50-64 (55%).
Overall, more than half of Australians (55%) say they believe in God or a higher power, of which 24% believe in a personal God, and 31% believe there is some sort of spirit or life force.
Again, age differences are apparent. Slightly higher proportions of the two younger groups, the 18 to 34 and the 35 to 49 year olds, express belief in God or a higher power, despite being less familiar with the Christian faith. The 50-64 year old age group has the lowest proportion who express a belief in God or higher power.
When it comes to familiarity with Christian teachings, those aged 65 years and over are the most familiar. However, they don’t necessarily have an equally strong belief in God, despite being the most familiar with Christian teachings. The 50 to 64 year old age group is the least believing group at 49%, and yet they are the second most familiar with the Christian faith.
It’s often young Australians who are perceived as less religious, yet we found they have a relatively strong familiarity with Christianity (56%) and a belief level similar to other groups (57%).
Once again we need to ask: are churches missing an opportunity here to engage with young people? Many younger Australians may not have heard the message of the Christian faith, yet they have a relatively strong belief in God or a higher power.
And why are the older groups less open to believing what they’ve heard and been taught? How can churches meaningfully engage with and understand the complacency, or the cynicism that might exist in older Australians?
2021 Australian Community Survey, by NCLS Research
Tracking Australians' social attitudes, spirituality, religion and wellbeing