The future of world religions

The religious profile of the world is rapidly changing, driven primarily by differences in fertility rates and the size of youth populations among the world’s major religions, as well as by people switching faiths. New research provides insights into future trajectories of religious change in the world.

© Elena Schweitzer | Dreamstime

© Elena Schweitzer | Dreamstime

A new study co-authored by World Population Program researchers Marcin Stonawski and Michaela Potančoková [1][2][3] entitled The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050 suggests that differences in fertility and population structures by age between religious communities and religious switching will change the world’s religious profile.

While many people have offered predictions about the future of religion, these are the first formal demographic projections using data on age, fertility, mortality, migration, and religious switching for multiple religious groups around the world. The researchers gathered the input data from more than 2,500 censuses, surveys, and population registers, an effort that has taken six years.

The main finding of the project was that while the number of religiously unaffiliated people (atheists, agnostics, and others) is increasing in some countries, the proportion of the global population unaffiliated with any religion will be smaller in 2050 than it is today. This runs counter to expectations that religion is declining around the world. The study also finds that if current trends continue, by 2050:

  • The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.
  • The global Buddhist population will be about the same size it was in 2010, while the Hindu and Jewish populations will be larger than they are today.
  • In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.
  • India will retain a Hindu majority but will also have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.
  • In the US, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the US than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.
  • Four out of every ten Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

References

[1] Stonawski M, Skirbekk V, Hackett C, Potančoková M, Connor P, and Grim BJ (2015). Global population projections by religion: 2010-2050. Yearbook of International Religious Demography 2015. pp 99-116. doi:10.1163/9789004297395_004

[2] Hackett C, Stonawski M, Potancokova M, Grim BJ, Skirbekk V (2015). The future size of religiously affiliated and unaffiliated populations. Demographic Research, 32(1):829-842 doi:10.4054/DemRes.2015.32.27.

[3] Pew Research Center (2015). The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050 http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/

Collaborators

Columbia University, New York, USA

Pew Research Center, Washington DC, USA 


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Last edited: 25 February 2016

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