Monday 16 July 2018

Drop in number of Catholics for the first time in half a century

Sharp increase in population who declare that they have no religion in Census 2016

Click to view full size graphic
Click to view full size graphic
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

The number of people who declare they have no religion has increased by 73pc over the past five years, Census 2016 finds.

Some 481,388 people stated they had no religion in their Census return, compared with 277,237 in 2011.

For the first time in 50 years there has been an absolute fall in the number of Roman Catholics. While Catholics account for 78.3pc of the population, the number is substantially down compared with five years ago when the figure stood at 84.2pc. One in eight is born outside Ireland.

"Looking back, Census results show that historically Roman Catholics represented an average of 89.5pc of the population in each of the four censuses held from 1881 to 1911," the Central Statistics Office (CSO) said.

"It subsequently rose to a peak in 1961 of 94.9pc. Since then, its proportion of the total population has slowly declined.

"While the proportion of Catholics declined in 2016, the total number also recorded a fall of 132,220 persons from 3.86 million in 2011 to 3.73 million in 2016, the first such fall in absolute numbers since at least five decades."

The CSO noted that there had been "significant increases" in the 25 years between 1991 and 2016 in the non-Catholic population, driven not only by growing numbers of people with no religion but by increases in other faiths.


The fastest growing religion in percentage terms has been Orthodox followed by Apostolic and Pentecostal. Among the larger religions, only two have a growth rate lower than the overall change in population - Roman Catholics and Methodists.

The Census also shows that those with 'no religion' make up 10pc of the population, compared with 6pc in 2011. The peak age for declaring no religion is 26, when 18.5pc expressed this view, which declines as the population ages.

One in five people in Dublin city said they had no religion, while the lowest rate was in Monaghan at 3.8pc. Offaly has the highest percentage of Catholics with 88.6pc, while Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown has the lowest at 69.8pc.

There is a higher proportion of Catholics in rural areas than urban areas (85.9pc compared with 73.8pc), and the number falls in larger towns. Those with no religion are concentrated in cities and towns with populations above 1,500.

The CSO also said that divorce rates among Catholics are rising, up from 3.6pc in 2011 to 4.1pc in 2016. This is lower than the State as a whole, where the rate stands at 4.7pc.

Some 2,050 people, of which 84pc were men, said their religion was 'Jedi Knight'.

Members of the Church of Ireland decreased slightly as did the number of Presbyterians.

The data also shows that members of the Church of Ireland, which stands 126,000 strong, is older than the general population, 40.3 years compared with 37.4 years.

Most members are Irish, followed by UK nationals, Polish and Lithuanian. One in 11 live in Cork.

One in four Presbyterians live in Donegal, and as a group they are "slightly more concentrated in the higher social classes" than the general population, the CSO stated. Other changes in the religious make-up of the country include a 28.9pc increase in the number of Muslim residents, which stands at 63,443, up from 49,204 in 2011. The average age is 26, compared with a State average of 37.4 years. Almost half are living in Dublin city and suburbs.

"Muslims in Ireland were less likely to be single and more likely to be married compared with the general population," Census 2016 said, adding they are less likely to divorce.

Irish nationals make up 55.6pc of the total, followed by Pakistani (11.4pc) and UK nationals (3.4pc). Muslim women are far more likely to be working in the home.

"Among Muslim men, 53.3pc were at work in April 2016 with 17pc unemployed or looking for their first job. In contrast 23.6pc of Muslim women were working at the time of the Census while a further one in five were unemployed.

In all, 27.4pc of Muslim women aged 15 and over were looking after the home or family, significantly higher than the rate for all women at 14.9pc."

Some 1.1pc of all men aged 15 and over are homemakers in 2016, but it rises to 2.3pc for Muslim men.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News