Irreligion in New Zealand

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Irreligion in New Zealand refers to atheism, agnosticism, deism, religious scepticism and secular humanism in New Zealand society. Post-war New Zealand has become a highly secular country, meaning that religion does not play a major role in the lives of many of the population.

Although New Zealand has no established religion, Christianity had been the most common religion since widespread European settlement in the 19th century.


The increase of the proportion of the population recorded as having 'no religion' over the last six censuses.
2013 Census graph of people stating no religion by sex and age. Irreligion is highest among males and younger generations.

Statistics New Zealand gathers information on religious affiliation in the five-yearly census. Completing a census form is compulsory by law for every person in New Zealand on census night[1] but respondents are able to object to answering the question of religious affiliation,[2] and around 6% do object.[3] The trend shows an increasing proportion of residents in New Zealand declaring no religious affiliation. In the 1991 census, 20.2% were in this category.[4] The proportion more than doubled in two decades, reaching 41.9% in the 2013 census, and increased again to 48.2% in the 2018 census, when for the first time a plurality of New Zealanders claimed "no religion".[5]

There is significant debate among sociologists about the interpretation of this trend in census data.[6] The increase in those indicating 'no religion' is often cited in support of the secularisation thesis. An alternative theory is that the data indicates a decline in institutional religious affiliation rather than simply a decrease in spiritual belief.[7] A 1985 survey showed that around one-quarter of those answering 'no religion' may believe in a god and that, conversely, between 7 percent and 36 percent of Christians (depending on their denomination) did not believe in the existence of deities.[8]

The International Social Survey Programme was conducted in New Zealand by Massey University in 2008. It received mail-responses from around one thousand New Zealanders above the age of 18, surveying issues of religious belief and practice. The results of this survey indicated that 72% of the population believed in a god or a higher power, 15% were agnostic, and 13% were atheist (with a 3% margin of error).[9]

According to a report by the American Physical Society, religion may die out in New Zealand and eight other Western world countries.[10][11][12]

As of the 2018 census, those who did not affiliate with a religion outnumbered those with a religion for the first time.[5]

Irreligion in society[edit]

The Humanist Society of New Zealand and the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists promote a secular view of life without reference to supernatural agencies as one of their aims.

A campaign to create advertisements similar to the Atheist Bus Campaign in the United Kingdom began a fund-raising drive on 10 December 2009,[13] and reached its initial target of $10,000 in donations within 48 hours, making it one of the most successful atheist campaigns of all time.[14]

Māori and other ethnic groups[edit]

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand notes, in 2013 "47% of people who identified themselves as Europeans or New Zealanders said they had no religion – as did 46% of Māori and 30% of Asians. Only 18% of Pacific peoples, and 17% of people in the Middle Eastern, Latin American and African ethnic groups, said they had no religion."[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Participation in the Census". Statistics New Zealand. Archived from the original on 2010-05-26. Retrieved 2010-06-09.
  2. ^ "Religious Affiliation Questionnaire Model". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 2010-06-09.
  3. ^ Table 28, 2006 Census Data – QuickStats About Culture and Identity – Tables Archived 2011-07-24 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ "Diverse Communities – Exploring the Migrant and Refugee Experience in New Zealand" (PDF). Ministry of Social Development. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  5. ^ a b "2018 Census totals by topic" (Microsoft Excel spreadsheet). Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  6. ^ Olson, William. H. (2000). The secularization debate. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780742507616.
  7. ^ Ward, Kevin (2004). "'No Longer Believing' – or – 'Believing without Belonging'". In Stenhouse, John (ed.). The Future of Christianity: Historical, Sociological, Political and Theological Perspectives from New Zealand. Adelaide: AFT Press. pp. 64–66.
  8. ^ "Who is Secular". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 2010-06-09.
  9. ^ "Religion In New Zealand: International Social Survey Programme" (PDF). Massey University. Retrieved 2010-06-10.
  10. ^ "Religion may become extinct in nine nations, study says". BBC. March 2011. Retrieved January 7, 2013.
  11. ^ Abrams, Daniel M.; Yaple, Haley A.; Wiener, Richard J. (January 2011). "A mathematical model of social group competition with application to the growth of religious non-affiliation". Physical Review Letters. 107 (8): 088701. arXiv:1012.1375. Bibcode:2011PhRvL.107h8701A. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.107.088701. PMID 21929211.
  12. ^ "Religion set for extinction in NZ, says US study". The New Zealand Herald. March 22, 2011. Retrieved January 7, 2013.
  13. ^ Burns, Kelly (11 December 2009). "'There's probably no God' coming to a bus near you". The Dominion Post. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
  14. ^ NZ Atheist Bus Campaign Blog $10,000 and growing fast
  15. ^ Walrond, Carl (4 April 2018). "Atheism and secularism". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 3 February 2019.

External links[edit]