JW Decline: additional data from Aust 2016 census

by shepherdless 27 Replies latest watchtower scandals

  • shepherdless

    About 9 months ago, I started this thread:


    I have had a little spare time, so I thought I would present some of the data in a more user friendly manner, with some additional detail.

    1. Median Age

    Just to re-hash, in my earlier thread, I reported that from 2006 to 2016, the median age of JWs went from 38.7 to 43.9. Over the same time period, median age in the Aust population increased from 37.0 to 38.1. Median age in a population is the best single number to predict whether a population is in, or about to suffer, a decline. The increase in median age for JWs (over 5 years in a period of 10 years) indicates a major shift. It will probably go higher, but even if it doesn't, it tips JWism into decline in the future.

    2. Population Tree

    You may have heard of this sort of graph. It also gives a more detailed indication of where a population is heading. Here are 2 population trees for Aust as a whole, which I extracted from the 2006 and 2016 census data:

    The first is 2006. The second is 2016. You will see that it doesn't vary that much.

    Compare that to the population trees for Aust JWs alone (2006, 2011 and 2016, in order):

    Something has been hacking into the lower limbs of that population tree. So much so, it is starting to look like a lolipop. It seems that particularly in the last 10 years, young ones (15 to 25) have been leaving, and it is now starting to have an impact on the number born into the Borg. This is what is driving the median age higher.

    3. Pod breeding stock is decreasing

    If the above is not enough to convince you that decline is "in the wind", then here is a really simple chart. Every born-in needs a mother. Most born-ins will have a JW mother under 40 years of age. Yes, occasionally a male JW will drag a normal female in, occasionally a female JW over 40 will have a kid, and some come via immigration, but it is pretty safe to say that the bulk of future born-ins will be born to these "females under 40". "Females under 40" are in decline:

    That represents a 14% decline in 10 years. The reality is probably a little worse, because a disproportionate number is approaching 40. What this means is that altough the numbers have so far only declined a little, larger decline is inevitable.

    4. But aren't all religions losing young ones?

    Not to this extent. See for example the population tree for the Seventh Day Adventists. Here is a religion that is only 3/4 the size of the Borg in Aust yet still has more kids in the 0 to 4 age category. Note there is no "lolipop" forming yet.

    5. The "Return to Jehovah" effect is significant

    I have previously described this effect. In preparing this, I relaise that it is larger than I thought. As shown above, and as you are probably aware, a lot of people leave the Borg between the ages of 15 and 25. It seems to me from the data that a lot of those who leave are POMI, and come back after they start to have kids. This shows up in the date in 2 ways.

    Firstly, the census data shows that the number of kids in the 5 to 9 age bracket increases significantly compared to the 0 to 4 age bracket, of 5 years earlier. You can see this in the JW population trees above. This can partially be explained (but not completely) by immigration.

    Secondly, there is a large discrepancy between boys and girls in the 0 to 4 age bracket. Eg, in 2016, 5.0% of boys and 3.5% of girls fell into that bracket. The difference between 5.0 and 3.5 is far too large to be random. I think it is that POMI mothers are more likely to "return to jehovah" if they have a young boy to bring into the congregation. However, I would be happy to take any other suggestions as to what is happening here.

    If my explanation of the 5.0% vs 3.5% is correct, then it follows that the "Return to Jehovahs" make up 30% or more, of the parents of these young kids. Of course for this to be the case, there would have to be an offsetting outflow of other JWs in the 25 to 30 bracket, to account for the lack of increase in this category.

    6. Activism

    If what I have said about "Return to Jehovahs" is correct, it seems to me that an effective activism strategy would be to target the POMIs with TTATT. If all these POMIs stopped returning, the effect would be dramatic. (I think the internet is already doing a good job of that, but I thought I would mention it.)

    7. Effect of Immigration

    The numbers for the Borg in Aust would be worse, if it was not for immigration. I have extracted breakdowns of the number of JWs who (a) in the 2011 census said they resided outside of Australia in 2006 (and hence were not included in the 2006 census), and (b) in the 2016 census said they resided outside of Australia in 2011 (and hence were not included in the 2011 census). In essence:

    (a) Between 2006 and 2011, 3472 JWs entered Australia, and the total number of JWs only increased by 4717 (despite all the baptisms over that 5 year period).

    (b) Between 2011 and 2016, 2706 JWs entered Australia, but the total number of JWs DECREASED by 3123.

    No, we haven't started burying them in a quarry in the outback. It is just that the number of JWs arriving in Aust aren't covering the numbers of young ones leaving the Borg in Aust. (Also of course there would be a smaller but significant number leaving Aust.)

  • steve2

    Fascinating break down of the numbers. Overall, is the number of self-reported JWs in the 2016 Australian census greater than the number in the previous Census?

  • shepherdless

    Hi Steve, no the “self-reported” number is a decrease, from 85,635 in 2011 to 82,512 in 2016.


    Sooo.... Is JWism a woman’s religion?? It seems like the old guys are dying, leaving old Widows.. Then who is left? Couples beyond child rearing years, with those of the median age leaving, and born-ins who are increasingly likely to leave in their 20’s???

    I apologize if I’m rambling, graphs give me a headache, but I feel like this is what I’ve been observing for awhile.


  • steve2

    Hi Steve, no the “self-reported” number is a decrease, from 85,635 in 2011 to 82,512 in 2016.

    Thanks shepherdless.

    A similar decrease in the number of self-reported JWs in New Zealand. There were more self-reported JWs in NZ in 1996 (19,527) than in 2013 (17,931). We've just had our Census so it will be interesting to see if the decrease continues.

  • slimboyfat

    Bless you shepherless - this is fascinating.

    Another measure of average is the mode. And looking at your data it looks like the average (mode) member of JWs in 2006 was a 50 year old woman, whereas in 2016 it was a 60 year old woman. This absolutely seems true in the UK. At assemblies 60 year old women are everywhere. There are tons of them.

    The discrepancy between male and female infants (0-4) just looks too large to make rational sense. If I had access to the data I'd be checking and double and triple checking for a mistake. This is the sort of statistical result that doesn't pass the "smell test" which is a proper part of any statistics analysis. It just looks wrong and I can't think of any good explanation for it.

    To clarify, when you talk about immigration, are you talking about net immigration? Because you cite the immigration figure and the increase, but don't mention any emigration figure.

    In Scotland I would say that, of the 1000 or so Adventists, 800 or more are immigrants from outside the United Kingdom. Mostly from Zimbabwe, Zambia, other African countries, Caribbean, Philippines, Russia, other Eastern Europe, in that rough order. If Australia is in any way similar then I think it would be very difficult to analyse SDA trends over time, in this particular format, or compare them with other groups. I'd rather choose a group like Mormons, Baptists, or Methodists, to compare with JWs. But maybe I reveal,my ignorance, without checking I don't know if Australia has many Baptists or Methodists.

    I'd also suggest that if you want to chart the trend of fertile females over time, it may be as well to exclude females under 14 as well as females over 40. I guess you could argue that females under 14 will be fertile in the future. But they are not yet, generally. And they may not be JWs by the time they are fertile. I doubt their exclusion would have a huge impact on the trend, but it may have some small effect.

    You are absolutely correct that POMI is a crucial target for activism (for those so minded) your evidence, everyday experience, and common sense confirm this observation.

    I find these developments absolutely fascinating. I'm just a bit disappointed that I suspect Watchtower will soon stop publishing their statistics in any format that allows their decline to be easily charted.

    But there will be census data from some countries such as Australia!

  • slimboyfat

    Hang on, I think there is a mistake here. Which explains the girl/boy apparent discrepancy.

    It seems that for each group you have calculated the percentage of (for example) men aged 20-24 as a percentage of the total population of JWs. Whereas you should have calculated the percentage of men aged 20-24 as a percentage of total male JWs only.

    You should also make sure the total area representing males is in proportion to the ratio of males to remales. For example, if JWs are 65% female to 35% male then the total area of the male bars should be only a little more than half the area covered by the female bars.

    This presentation would display the gender gap and eliminate the apparent infant girl/boy discrepancy.

    Do you follow,what I'm saying?

  • slimboyfat

    No sorry, what I wrote in the above message is wrong. (I mixed up total and male-only) But I leave it unedited in case you have already read it, and clarify here.

    I think I am approaching the solution here to the girl/boy problem. I will try and work it out again.

    It is a calculation and display problem.

    Consider that there can be 5% of JW males who are 0-4 and 3.5% of JW females who are 0-4, and yet they can be the same figure in absolute terms (2000 for example) just because there are more females overall than there are males. Because 3.5% of a larger number can be (probably is, in this case) the same as 5% of a smaller number.

    Plus iI I don't know how demographic trends are usually displayed, but if there is a huge discrepancy between males and females (as there is among JWs) then this should (one would think) be visible in the graph. Whereas in your graphs males and females look to cover the same area overall, just distributed differently. This perhaps involves calculating percentages using the whole population rather than by gender on each side. (The opposite of what I said in the previous message) I hope this makes sense!

  • slimboyfat

    Another way of putting it:

    If there are 82,000 JWs and 40% are male and 60% are female (my estimate - what is the actual figure?) then that means:

    32.800 males


    49,200 females

    5% of 32,800 is 1,640 boys


    3.5% of 49,200 is 1,700 girls

    Which seems reasonably equal (as we might expect) and eliminates the apparent discrepancy between boys and girls (0-4) in the graph.

  • LongHairGal


    Yes, the Witnesses now looks to be an older widows’ religion. When these widows are gone, so is the golden goose. These elderly are the last affluent bunch that contributed to the religion!

    The younger people after them are not going to do what they did. Besides, I suspect a certain percentage of these younger JWs are Physicaly in Mentally Out and have a foot out the door!

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