While I was working on the previous article Religiosity and income inequality, it occurred to me that it might be worthwhile taking a look at the Census 2010 data. I didn’t expect it to have any information about religiosity — the topic of the earlier post — but at least it would have numbers about religious affiliation.
Indeed it had. The religious landscape did not change dramatically from 2000, the year of the previous census.
The syncretic mix of Buddhism and Taoism that is characteristic of the Chinese remains the leading religion. In 2000, adherents made up 51 percent; in 2010, they formed 44.2 percent. Yet within this mix, the percentage who called themselves Buddhists declined significantly, while those who called themselves Taoists increased. A lot of questions immediately surface. Did people shift identity? Did people’s understanding of the terms change, such that while their beliefs remained more or less the same, they way they labelled themselves changed?
An intriguing possibility is the impact of immigration. Perhaps native-born Singaporean Chinese had, prior to 2000, come to see Taoism as old fashioned and chosen to label themselves Buddhists, while new immigrants from China — many arriving post-2000 — do not see the issue the same way. I suspect the census used the colloquial term “Bai shen” in the question, which literally becomes “Do you worship the gods?”. If the new immigrants, not having absorbed the idea that Taoist beliefs are unfashionable, said “Yes, I worship gods” in response, then the numbers of Taoists recorded by the census would increase.
But at this point, it’s just my speculation. Still, it’s important to remember that surveying people for their religion is prone to all sorts of communication difficulties. How religion is defined, what associations each label has, is culturally specific. Therefore, use the numbers with extreme care.
Recall also a point I made in the earlier post. Religiosity is a different thing altogether from religion. The census merely asked people to categorise themselves based on the individual’s own and sometimes idiosyncratic understanding of the various terms. Religiosity, on the other hand, is the degree that a person abides by the teachings, beliefs and lifestyle requirements of this religion. This degree or intensity can vary immensely from one individual to the next, even if they both use the same label to describe themselves. Religiosity is not a measure captured in the census. So once again, use the numbers provided here with extreme care.
1. The Christians (Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox together) increased from 14.6 percent to 18.3 percent. Interestingly the percentage of Catholics increased more than the that of Other Christians (predominantly Protestants), despite the headlines about the growth of mega churches. The question, much like that for the Buddhists and Taoists, is: Is the growth in the number of Catholics due to conversion or immigration? For example, if plenty of Filipinos became Permanent Residents in the decade leading up to 2010, it would impact the number and percentage of Catholics.
2. The “No religion” group increased from 14.8 percent in 2000 to 17.0 percent ten years later.
The percentages are shown in the table above, and represented in the bar chart below.
You will also notice an increase in Hindus, albeit that the total numbers are still relatively small. This one is almost surely due to immigration from India.
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Evidence from other societies suggest that the better educated and higher income group would contain more people with no religion. Is this true in Singapore too? Yes it is, and very clearly too. The table below says it all. The percentage of those with “no religion” increases as educational attainment increases, reaching 24 percent among university graduates.
This being the case, the Humanist Society of Singapore has a bright future.
Anecdotal evidence also suggest that here in Singapore, the elite and upwardly mobile tend towards Christianity. Unlike secularism, this trend is quite specific to Singapore.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any table from the census report crossing religion with income bands, so the next best thing would be too look at the table crossing religion with dwelling type, which one can use as a rough surrogate for income level.
A table containing the data can be seen by clicking the thumbnail at right. For the purposes of pie charts below, I have classified our population into four groups to keep things simple. The size of the pies vary proportionately with the size of the groups, the largest being those living in 4-room public housing (34 percent of citizens and Permanent Residents aged 15 years and above). Those in 5-room or executive condominiums constitute 28 percent, while those in 3-room flats and those living comfortably in private properties constitute 20 and 18 percent respectively.
As you can see, the evidence bears out the anecdotal observation. Catholics and other Christians make up about 35 percent of the group living in private properties, the highest proportion out of four pie charts.
Yet, if you will recall, out of 24 new candidates introduced by the People’s Action Party prior to the May 2011 general election, twelve of them (50%) declared themselves to be Christian or Catholic. In other words, not only were they far from representative of Singaporeans as a whole, they weren’t even representative of the economic elite from which they were drawn. I think this remarkable skewing of political weightage is something we should bear in mind each time they open their mouths about Singaporeans’ “values” or the “tone of our society”.