Catholics getting older and fewer attending Mass: NCLS

The latest snapshot of church life in Australia shows that Mass attenders are on average older, better educated and more likely to be female, married and born overseas than Catholics in general.

This is the picture from the 2006 National Church Life Survey (NCLS), based on a random sample of around 70,000 Mass attenders from 229 Catholic parishes from every Australian diocese, an ACBC statement says.

The survey found that 61 percent of Mass attenders aged 15 and over (the age group covered by NCLS) were female, compared to 53 percent of the same age group among Catholics as a whole.

Among Mass attenders aged 15 and over, 28 percent had a degree or higher qualification, while 68 percent were married, 10 percent were widowed, five percent were separated or divorced and one percent were in a de facto relationship.

Mass attenders were also more likely than Catholics in general to be born overseas: among those aged 20 or more, 36 percent of Mass attenders were born overseas compared to 29 percent of the Catholic population.

The percentage of Catholics attending Mass every week dropped slightly from 2001 to 2006.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Pastoral Projects Office conducted a national count in May 2006, which showed the total number of people at Mass on a typical weekend was 708,600, or about 14 percent of the Census Catholic population. This was down from a little over 15 percent, or 764,000, in 2001.

Meanwhile, the 2006 Australian Census showed that Catholics remain the largest religious group in the country. There were 5,126,884 Catholics in Australia, making up 25.8 percent of the total population of 19,855,288. The next two largest groups in terms of religious affiliation were Anglicans and those who said they had no religion, with both accounting for 18.7 percent of the population.

The Catholic population grew by 125,260 between the 2001 and 2006 censuses, but declined slightly as a proportion of the total population from the 2001 figure of 26.6 percent.

The median age of Australian Catholics in 2006 was 36.6 years, slightly younger than that of other Australians (37.2 years). Five years earlier, the median age of the two groups had been 34.7 years and 36.0 years respectively, so the gap in median age between Catholics and the rest of the population is narrowing.

More than one fifth of Australian Catholics (22.7%) were born overseas, including 17.6 percent who were born in non-English speaking countries.

Fifteen percent of Catholics aged 15 and over had a university degree or higher qualification, a considerable increase over the 2001 figure of 12 per cent. Identical proportions – 52 percent – of Catholic primary students and Catholic secondary students attended Catholics schools, the same as in 2001. Non-Catholics made up 21 per cent of the students at Catholic primary schools and 28 per cent at Catholic secondary schools, up from 19 per cent and 26 per cent respectively in 2001.

These Census figures are part of a comprehensive package of 2006 Census data on the Australian

Catholic population obtained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics by the ACBC.


Profile of Catholics in Australia (ACBC, Media Release, 5/6/08)


Australia's Catholics in 2006 - an extended profile

Pastoral Projects Office



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