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Few Surprises in the NI Census Results — But What of the Atheists?

by Phil O'Kane on December 11th, 2012

census 2011 logoThe 2011 Census data released today continued the growing trend of religiosity losing its majority populace throughout the UK. In Northern Ireland 16.86% of the population responded as having “no religion” or “did not state religion” whereas the response for “persons with no religion or religion not stated” in the 2001 census was 13.88% — this marks a small increase of an increase of 2.98%.

In England and Wales the number of people selecting “no religion” increased from 15% in 2001 to 25% in 2011.

The NI data reveals 48% of the resident population are either Protestant or brought up Protestant, a drop of 5% from the 2001 census.

However, the numbers show that 45% of the resident population are either Catholic or brought up Catholic, yet only 41% Catholic on census day.

  • 41% Catholic
  • 19% Presbyterian
  • 14% Church of Ireland
  • 5.8% other Christian or Christian-related denominations
  • 3% Methodist
  • 0.8% other religions and philosophies

Putting this with the figures for national identity — the first time this question has been asked — the overall statistics become much more interesting as well bringing a better understanding of the politics of people in Northern Ireland. Just 25% regard themselves as Irish only. This just shows there is not a definable correlation between religion and national identity/voting pattern.

According to the BBC

7% say they either belong to another religion or none

And the UTV reported this as

Just over 5% of people in Northern Ireland said they do not belong to any religion

Each news outlet is taking different data to be the correct response.
The BBC are giving the number of 6.75% of those who “who did not state religion” for Question 17 which asked “What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?”. While UTV gave the number of those 5.59% of those who answered “none” to Question 18 which asked “What religion, religious denomination or body were you brought up in?”.

Neither of these take into consideration the 10.11% of people who answered “No Religion” under the same Question 17.

This inaccuracy of the data reporting is extremely important, and it’s a shame to see the media portray the numbers incorrectly. The numbers of those who have no religion are

Jill Farquhar states why this is important:

As politicians use the census statistics to form policy and allocate resources this type of misrepresentation is extremely significant. The use of data conflating religion with religious background produces an image of Northern Ireland which is significantly more religious and significantly less diverse than is actually the case. This reinforces the Catholic/Protestant binary and justifies the continued intrusion of religion into lawmaking in NI (see the restrictive abortion legislation for example).

More broadly, the conflation of ‘religion’ with ‘religious background’ perpetuates the idea that the religion of our parents defines our own religious identity and produces religion as something essential to the individual rather than something which can be changed, challenged and/or rejected.

For the purposes of the NI census, it seems, atheists really are ‘catholic atheists’ or ‘protestant atheists’.

Based on the data in English and Wales, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has calculated that if the change in Christianity shown between 2001 and 2011 continues, then Christians would be recorded as being in the minority from September 2018.

This is highly significant data as we watch rationality become the norm, yet there are still continued efforts to be done in education, particularly in Northern Ireland, which has seen a rise in Atheism and secularism, and indeed a growing progressive liberal community, however this has been much smaller than elsewhere in the UK.

Below is the data comparing the 2011 census data with that from 2001:

49 Comments
  1. “no definable correlation”

    There is most certainly a correlation, but it is not 100%.

  2. @Jr – I didn’t say there is no correlation, just not as definable as many assume it is.

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