10 Dec 2013

NZ a more diverse, less religious place

8:23 pm on 10 December 2013

New Zealand is more ethnically diverse and less religious than it was seven years ago. That is the picture painted by figures from the 2013 census released by Statistics New Zealand on Tuesday.

New Zealand now has more ethnic groups than there are countries in the world, with the biggest increases in the Chinese, Indian and Filipino categories.

The number of Filipinos has more than doubled since 2006 to 40,000. The smallest ethnic groups include Greenlanders, Sardinians and Latin American creoles.

For the first time since European colonisation, Christians make up less than half of the population.

The number of Christians has fallen 8% since 2006 to 1.9 million, while the number of people belonging to no religion has jumped by 26% to 1.6 million.

Paul Morris, director for Religious Studies at Victoria University, said on Tuesday that doesn't mean Christians are losing their faith.

"What is very clear is that as people are dying, they're not being replaced by younger members. So in that sense, I think the noteworthy increase in the number of new religions is largely to do with a generation who don't affiliate."

Mr Morris says while Christians still make up the biggest religious group, the fact they are no longer a majority has implications for society and politics. For example, he says Christian lobby groups can no longer say they represent most New Zealanders.

The number of Hindus, Muslims and Pentecostals has risen.

More using public transport or bikes

A climate policy expert welcomes the rise in New Zealanders using public transport or cycling for their daily commute.

The 2013 census shows that, compared with one held in 2006, 8% more people now take the bus, 25% more go by train and 16% more cycle. Car use remains static, with a rise of just 2%.

Ralph Chapman from Victoria University says the figures are good news for New Zealand's carbon emissions situation.

"I just think it's an encouraging picture and the challenge is one of taking that picture and accelerating those trends. If we can reduce our carbon emissions, for example, improve people's health, reduce obesity - I'd like to see those trends gather way."

Mr Chapman questions whether government spending on roading projects is justified when more people are not using cars.

Meanwhile, the number of smokers has taken a slide, down 23% to just under 600,000. People who describe themselves as former smokers rose by 65,000.