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Classification and coding process

Classification criteria

In the classification, religions are grouped into progressively broader categories on the basis of similarity in terms of religious beliefs, religious practices and the cultural heritage of adherents. This results in those religions and religious groups, which are closely related in terms of their intrinsic characteristics, being closely aligned in the structure of the classification. The number of adherents of a particular religious group has been a significant factor in developing the classification structure. Thus, Christian denominations are extensively identified. However, the identification of individual religions or denominations in the classification, and the way in which they are grouped, does not imply the expression of any opinion on the part of Statistics New Zealand concerning the relative merit or importance of particular religions or the people who practice them.

The classification also includes a 'no religion’ category, which could be considered to be inconsistent with the basis of the classification as described above and perhaps lies outside the scope of the religion topic. It has been included for practical reasons and to make the classification more useful.

In general, level 1 consists of world religions, level 2 is denominations, and level 3 is sub–denominations. However, when these classification criteria are not appropriate (for example there are no ‘denominations’ for Hinduism), religious affiliations are broadly grouped at level 1 and repeated at level 2. The most detailed responses are classified at level 3.


The standard classification of religious affiliation is a hierarchical classification of three levels. Level 1 of the classification has nine categories, level 2 has 40 categories and level 3 has 84 categories – excluding residual categories.

The residual categories are defined in Glossary and references.

The full classification is available in the 'Available files' section in chapter one.


Coding process

  • Responses should be coded to the most appropriate level three category, ie the lowest level of the classification.
  • If a respondent gives more than one response to the religious affiliation question, all responses (or as many as processing, time, and cost restraints will allow) should be retained.
  • Responses should be coded to a level 3 not further defined (nfd) category when there is not enough information to code to a more specific level 3 category (see the Glossary for the definition of ‘nfd’ categories).
  • Responses that indicate a specific religious affiliation or group that is not currently in the classification should be coded to the most appropriate not elsewhere classified (nec) category (see Glossary and references for the definition of ‘nec’ categories).
  • People who report a religious affiliation, but also indicate they are ‘nominal’, ‘lapsed’, ‘non–practicing’ and so on should be coded to the religious affiliation marked or written. (This is because the question is about affiliation, not participation).
  • Responses that indicate the respondent has no religious affiliation should be coded to ‘no religion’.
  • Responses that indicate that the respondent objects to answering the question or refuses to answer the question should be coded to ‘object to answering’.
  • When a respondent reports a set of beliefs and practices that does not meet the criteria for a religion (as defined in Glossary and references), code to ‘response outside of scope’. For example, a response of ‘vegetarian’ should be coded to ‘response outside of scope’.
  • An expert may be consulted in order to identify the correct coding procedure for obscure or difficult–to–identify affiliations.

A codefile is used to code responses. A codefile is a comprehensive list of probable survey responses and the classification categories to which they are coded. The codefile for religious affiliation contains responses such as “Hebrew” which is coded to the 'Judaism/Jewish' category of the classification.

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