Aust 2016 Census observations: JW's getting older, more kids leaving, and 30+ group aren't returning
1. Median Age
Experts will tell you that if you want to know if a population is in growth or decline, the best single number to look at is the median age of the population. I have extracted Aust census data and calculated the following approx median ages:
Year 2006: Aust population: 37.0 JW's: 38.7
Year 2011: Aust population: 37.6 JW's: 41.2
Year 2016: Aust population: 38.1 JW's: 43.9
For complicated reasons, I am not confident of the last decimal point, in the above. However, I am confident that the numbers broadly represent the situation.
To put it in words, over 10 years, that median age of the Aust population rose slightly (1.1 years), but the JW median age went up substantially (5.2 years). A median of anything over around 40 would normally indicate decline, and the higher the number, the faster the decline.
2. Age Cohort Detail
Here is a breakdown of JW's from the last 3 censuses, into 5 year cohorts:
Comparing 2011 to 2016, these number show that in every 5 year age category below 60, JW's have less adherents. Aust has a high immigration rate and the numbers look worse for the Borg if I extract out those from 2016 who were not in Aust in 2011. (It is not hard to do, but I suspect I will just confuse people with too many numbers if I set that out.)
3. The "return to Jehovah"'s have stopped returning
Another way to look at the data is to see what has happened to each cohort over 10 years. This involves reading the above chart diagonally, instead of straight down. Again, I haven't included the data for the sake of simplicity, but the increase in most cohorts between 2006 and 2011 is around the same number of JW's who in 2011 reported they were living outside of Aust in 2006 (ie, most of the increases were immigrants). The major exception is the significant increase in the 1 to 4 cohort.
To explain, the above chart shows that in 2006, the number in the 1 to 4 cohort was 4058. in 2011, these kids were in the 5 to 9 bracket. Note there were now 4857 of them. That is 799 young kids drawn in by their parents. (Actually there were only 404 of them, because 295 of those kids were immigrants.)
Maybe the Borg is having a lot of success recruiting young families. I think the more likely explanation is that a lot of the teens and young adults who left, started drifting back into the Borg when they settled down and started having kids themselves. This "return to Jehovah" group was probably the difference between expansion and decline in the past.
This changed in 2016. Doing the same exercise comparing 2011 to 2016, the effect is still there, but it is very small. For the 0 to 4 bracket, there is only an increase of 217 kids, which is explainable by immigration.
This is the reason I say in the title "the 30+ group aren't returning to Jehovah any more".
4. It is not just the young ones who are leaving
If you do the same exercise of following a cohort from 2011 to 2016 (ie reading the numbers diagonally, instead of straight down) you will note that they are actually losing numbers in every single age cohort. To put it another way, the reason the numbers for the 60+ groups are holding up is not because they are staying, it is because the younger ones are getting older and taking their places.
This is excellent work, much appreciated. If my like button worked I would like it, so consider it liked.
Good sheperdless analysis.
Thanks. I will try to extract some more interesting data over the next few days.
Interesting to note that the average age is not only rising but rising at an accelerating rate: 2.5 years and then 2.7 years. All the more significant since death puts an upper limit on age, obviously, so an accelerating trend like that can't continue for long.
Although you say the figures may not be accurate to the decimal point I thought I'd point it out.
Hi sbf, I don't have enough confidence in the data to read anything into that tiny acceleration in the median age. The main point is that it increased significantly. The higher it goes, the faster the future decline, and the harder it is to turn it around.
Just for interest sake, I projected the figures forward to see what they might be in 5 years time and 10 years time. All things being equal, i calculated that in 5 years the median age would be 48 and overall decline would be 4%. In 10 years, the median age would be 53 and there would be a further 4% decline. Of course, a lot can change and I wouldn't want to be held to those numbers.
Already, there are as many JW's over 75 as there are under 10. Probably in about 7 years there will be more JW's over 80 as under 10. I just wonder how teenagers in particular will cope with that, will young people generally be able to take any of it seriously, etc.
Of course, what is happening in Australia is probably happening (or has happened or will soon happen) in all first world countries.
Yes when I went to conventions in the 1990s there were loads of pretty young women. But when I went to the convention last year it was more like geriatric central. The small section they used to reserve for the hard of hearing seems to have expanded to include most of the ground floor. It certainly gives a different feel to the whole thing. The lack of young people will no doubt discourage the remaining young people in a downward spiral.
When the end persistently fails to come, an organization experiences an 'ageing effect': people get older and either stay committed, slide into nominality or leave. Younger ones tend to have less zeal than their elders, with a downward spiral in commitment.
In JWs case, trolley work legitimates increased passivity but gives an appearance of commitment so it's a win-win: The public is not actively hassled by door-knockers to the degree of earlier decades and JWs give themselves accolades for their pedestrian outreach.
Really great analysis :thumbsup:
Amazing information. You highlighted information I had not thought of.
It is a good point that inactive ones return when having children. Sadly, I have seen that is often the case with ones that leave and marry unbelievers and then return upon childbirth.
There is regularly discussion around Watchtower collapsing suddenly, which is quite unrealistic. Older ones don't leave, they die out. Your analysis of the median age shows what will likely happen. The religion will slowly decline as the members age and die, with fewer new recruits to replace them. The 5 year increase in median age over a ten year period is quite astounding. Pity not all countries have reached this stage yet.