Adherents of Islam more educated and qualified than Christians, study finds, but having foreign sounding names and dressing differently makes it tough to find a job.

Not all religions and their followers are equal in New Zealand, a Herald investigation into the state of faith has found.

Adherents of some religions, such as Islam, are far less likely to be employed than followers of faiths such as Christianity or people with no religion.

A University of Waikato Islamic studies review on patterns and disparity of New Zealand Muslims found Muslims to be more educated and qualified than Christians.

Jews and Hindus hold the highest education level with almost a third holding tertiary qualifications.

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However, Muslims are three times more likely to be without a job than Christians or people not affiliated to any religion.

"The results ... have shown that about one-fifth of New Zealand Muslims are highly educated, but they also hold the highest unemployment rate as compared to other religious groups in New Zealand," said report author Yaghoob Foroutan.

"Muslims are less likely to be employed ... [and have] the lowest level of managerial and professional occupations than all other religious groups in New Zealand."

About 12 per cent of Muslims here are unemployed compared with 4 per cent for Christians and those without religion.

Overall, Muslims are two times more likely to be unemployed than non-Muslims and the unemployment rate is relatively higher, at about 15 per cent, for Muslims born in Iraq, Iran and Malaysia.

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At the last Census, 46,194 identified as Muslims, and more than one in five - similar levels as Buddhists - had tertiary education.

One in five Christians, who had the oldest median age of 40, had no qualifications.

Muslims and those affiliated with no religion hold the youngest age structure, with a median age of 25.

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Dr Zain Ali, head of Islamic research at the University of Auckland, said having foreign-sounding names and dressing differently made it tougher for Muslims to find employment.

Also, many were migrants who did not have relevant work experience or qualifications that were recognised in New Zealand.

Islam is among the few religions that grew strongly between 2006 and 2013, and Census figures revealed that three in four Muslims had lived in New Zealand for fewer than 10 years.

Christians are the longest-term residents with almost six in 10 having lived here for 10 years or more.

Dr Ali said employers here also had a bias towards wanting to be with those they could relate to and some felt uncomfortable with "scarf-wearing" Muslims.

AUT University Professor of Diversity Edwina Pio said that many Muslims also chose not to allow their women-folk to work.

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She said that although Muslims were more qualified on paper, their education and skills may not be relevant or recognised in New Zealand.

"Qualifications do not necessarily equate with skill level and accomplishment as the qualifications ... may be variable based on the wide variation in university level qualifications," Professor Pio said.

She said the community had low levels in managerial positions because of a reluctance to adapt to New Zealand norms.

"Muslims may feel that if they adapt to some of the norms of New Zealand, they dilute their own religion," said Professor Pio.

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"Hence they may choose to stay apart, leading to difficulties in organisational fit ... and fewer individuals in managerial positions."

Muslims are the third largest religious group, behind Christians and Hindus, and the population is projected to reach more than 100,000 by 2030.

The Afghani, Somali and Ethiopian communities - which comprise mainly Muslims - are the most religious ethnic groups in New Zealand. But of the ethnic communities with populations of over 10,000, the Filipinos are the most religious with 95.6 per cent who identify with at least one religion. The Japanese are the least religious of the main ethnicities with fewer than three in 10 who affiliate with a faith.

Professor Peter Lineham, Massey University's religious historian, says the main religion for Japan is Shinto but some Japanese do not consider the ethnic faith to be a religion.

Shinto is the largest religion in Japan, practised by nearly 80 per cent of the population there, but only a small percentage of these identify themselves as "Shintoists" in surveys.

Professor Lineham said Japan, being more Western than most other Asian nations, also had a trend of declining numbers affiliated with religions similar to the West.

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"Japan is far more Westernised than most non-Western societies and has been used by some sociologists of religion as a non-Western culture that is highly Westernised," he said.

Buddhism is the most common religion followed by Japanese living here, and a small number are Catholics and Christians.

Japanese comprise 14,118 people or less than 1 per cent of the total population. Nearly half, or 47.6 per cent, live in Auckland and more than seven in 10 were born overseas.

China, a communist country where people are mainly atheist, is New Zealand's largest source country for permanent migrants.

Two in three who identify with the Chinese ethnic group do not identify with a religion, and for those who do, the most common faiths are Buddhist, Christian and Catholic.

The Pasifika group are among the most religious, with just 17.5 per cent with no religion compared with 41.9 per cent of the total New Zealand population.

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Tongans are the most religious Pacific community with nine in 10 having at least one religion. The most common faiths are Methodist, Catholic and Latter-day Saints.

Samoans are the largest Pasifika community with 113,739 and 83.4 per cent have at least one religion.

One in five Samoans are Catholics, and others are mostly Presbyterian, Congregational and Reformed Christians.

Church the 'centre of Filipino life'

Father Elric Jorquia was surprised to find out the Catholic faith had become New Zealand's largest religion.

He came to New Zealand two years ago, and had the impression that this was a "Church of England" country.

Father Elric Jorquia says the church gives many fellow Filipinos the sense of belonging. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Father Elric Jorquia says the church gives many fellow Filipinos the sense of belonging. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Catholic overtook Anglican as the largest Christian denomination for the first time in 2013.

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"This country is becoming like the Philippines," Father Jorquia, a priest of eight years, said in jest.

Filipinos are the most religious ethnic group in New Zealand, with nearly 96 per cent affiliated to a religion. More than seven in 10 are Catholic, with others describing themselves as Christians, evangelical, born again or fundamentalist.

Father Jorquia, who is attached to the St Joseph's Parish in Takapuna, said the church was the "centre of life" for most Filipinos. "It has been taught by our parents and it is very much in our culture that God and the church is most important," he said.

His church is near Glenfield, an area on Auckland's North Shore where one in 10 residents is listed as Catholic.

"I think that's innate in our heart to be longing for someone who knows and understands our culture and our beliefs," he said. "The church gives them that sense of belonging."

He believes that's why many choose to live in suburbs where there are other Filipino migrants.

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Growing up in rural Philippines, Father Jorquia recalls walking 90 minutes each way to church every Sunday. "Mass is something we never miss, and after church it's when we catch up with friends and relatives.

"You can say the church is the centre of our lives, it's where we meet, pray, exchange advice ..."

Migrant Filipinos are more likely than those born in NZ to affiliate with religion, at 97.6 per cent and 83.3 per cent, respectively.

Happiness is ... a god for everything

Sundays are often tricky for Maki Shinkai, as she has to find yet another reason to tell her Christian husband why she won't go to church with him.

The 31-year-old Japanese mother of one said she did not believe in the concept of religion or that there is just one God.

Maki Shinkai. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Maki Shinkai. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Although she considered herself "spiritual", like seven in 10 Japanese in New Zealand, Ms Shinkai did not affiliate herself to any religion.

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Originally from Nagoya, Ms Shinkai said she was influenced by Shinto - an ethnic Japanese religion - and believed in "many gods".

"I think the idea of having just one God is really boring," said Ms Shinkai, a massage therapist.

"From young I have been told there is a god for everything ... the kitchen god, the flower god, and I think that's more amazing."

Shinto is a religion with no founder, no official sacred texts, and no formalised system of doctrine.

Ms Shinkai said she came from a family that never followed a religion, and did not see the need to be affiliated to one.

"My husband always invites me to church, but I tell him that if I want to find God, I can find many gods in nature," she said.

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"I see gods in the flowers and streams, and I feel more at peace in the outdoors than in any church or temple building."

Ms Shinkai said having a different set of beliefs had sometimes made things difficult with her husband. But they respected each other's differences.

Among populations larger than 10,000 in New Zealand, people who identified with the Japanese ethnic group were the least religious.

Japanese born in New Zealand were less likely than those born overseas to have a religion.

Religion and us
• 12% Muslims unemployed
• 40 median age of Christians
• 70% Japanese with no religion
• 96% Filipinos with a faith
• 17.5% Pasifika with no religion
• 33% Jews and Hindus with tertiary education.