Census 2021: The Religion Question

The surge in non-religious in the 2016 Census where “no religion” is now the second largest category behind Roman Catholics, marks a progressive evolution.
For the non-religious and humanists, those with no religion almost doubled to 468,400, a massive 73.4% increase.

One in ten Irish citizens now have “no religion”.

Following Census 2016, the HAI engaged in consultations with the Central Statistics Office (CSO) with a view to updating the question on religion for Census 2021. Census 2021 takes place on Sunday, 18th April next (subject to Public Health advice).

The HAI challenged the Census team stating that the current question “What is your Religion?” is not an open neutral question even allowing for the fact that one reply option is “No religion”.  The HAI is aware of anecdotal evidence that some people of no religion skip the religion question for the above reasons and are counted in the category of “Not stated”.

The first new sample question asks the respondent: “What is your religion, if any?” with “No Religion” being the first option on the checklist. A second sample question first asks the respondent: “Do you have a religion?” with a “Yes” or “No” option. Only if the respondent answers “Yes” are they given the option to state what their religion is.

Following the HAI submission the CSO carried out a pilot survey, where two new questions were tested:

  • The Pilot Form A version asked, “What is your religion, if any?”
  • The Pilot Form B version was a two-part question, first asking the Yes/No question, “Do you have a religion?”, with the second part asking, “If ‘Yes’, what is your religion?”

The results from the two versions of the Pilot forms were broadly consistent with 2016 results and with each other.

The CSO pilot survey report stated that the CAG considered the following four options:

  1. Drop the religion question in 2021
  2. Use the 2016 version
  3. Use the Form A version
  4. Use the Form B version

The CAG expressed a preference for the retention of a religion question. The discussion covered issues including patronage of new schools, the requirement for the data at small area level and the importance of data on religions with smaller numbers of adherents. The CAG favoured the Form A version of the question for Census 2021 as it was deemed to place a lower response burden on the majority of respondents who, based on Pilot evidence, are likely to identify with one of the categories listed in the question.

Given the increase in citizens identifying as having no religion in the 2016 Census, the HAI contends that the rewording of the question around religion will now more accurately reflect the number of non-religious people in Ireland.

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