A Heavenly Matter…

Given that the centenary of the beginning of the ‘Great War’ was commemorated yesterday, along with the current state of demographic-based international conflicts, it seems fitting to reflect on how Australian demographics have changed over the last century.

At first, some demographic facts and figures may not seem to be relevant to the Australian property market, but observing the rates of change and particular differences between now and the past allow us to grasp a firmer understanding of exactly what drives the behaviour of property market participants.

In the beginning decades of the 20th century, Australia was what one would call ‘meat and potatoes’. 95 per cent of residents were born in either Australia, the United Kingdom, or Ireland. Today, this figure is closer to 75 per cent.

98 per cent of residents were Christian in the 1900’s, this figure is now closer to 75 per cent, and the prevalence of ‘non-religion’ has increased from 1 in 200 Australians to almost 1 in 4 today. The average growth rate of the proportion of non-religious Australians was 6 per cent per annum between 2006 and 2011, up from the prior half decade figure of 1.4 per cent per annum. To put this into perspective, religious indifference is now growing at a rate four times higher than population growth.

So who are these new-age ‘heathens’, where are they and what are they doing? Demographic data indicates a correlation between non-religion, youth, proximity to cities or mines, the decline in proportion of protestant Christians, higher education and professional employment. Of further interest, a noticeable trend of local government areas with a higher proportion of monotheistic followerships (consider Auburn, NSW and Muswellbrook, NSW) also participate in voluntary activity considerably less than their irreligious counterparts (consider Leichhardt, NSW and Hobart, TAS).

What this rapidly shifting demographic phenomenon illustrates to us is that the traditional view of religiously active populations being more inclined to participate in volunteer activity is not accurate. This is relevant, as although religious and non-religious hubs certainly exist throughout the country, the direct influence that religion has on an individual’s decision making process is increasingly diminishing, leading to an evident shift of a town-centre from the local place of worship to the closest train station or bus interchange.

With the growth rate of religious indifference increasing each time it is sampled, a new point to consider for the property investor is: What drives the passions and core beliefs of the growing non-religious demographic; is it ecological sustainability, social responsibility, mobility, social belonging, family, all of the above, or none of the above? Additionally, how is it that a particular property investment appeals to these core beliefs now and into the future?

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