Results of a new six-year study conducted by the Pew Research Center released on Thursday, April 2, analyzed projected changes in population of the major religions and found that the world’s Muslim population will begin to outnumber the world’s Christian population for the first time in 2070.
According to the Pew study, as of 2010, Christianity was the world’s largest single religion with about 2.2 billion worldwide — about a third of the world’s population of 6.9 billion.
Islam came second with 1.6 billion or 23 percent of the world’s population.
Although the total of the world’s Christian population will continue to grow, the Muslim and Christian populations will approach parity in 2050 when the Muslim population reaches about 2.8 billion or 30 percent of the world’s population and the Christian population 2.9 billion or 31 percent of the world’s population.
According to the Pew analysis of global population growth data, Islam’s share of global population will catch up with the Christian, reaching 32 percent in 2070, and by 2100, there will be one percent more Muslims in the world than Christians.
The world’s population is expected to have grown 35 percent by 2050. But the study found that the world’s Muslim population will grow at more than double the rate of the world’s population. Islam is expected to be the only major religion in the world that will grow at a rate faster than the rate of growth of world’s population.
The study also found that by the end of the century, India, where the Hindu now hold the majority, will have the largest proportion of Muslims in the world, and by 2050, the Muslim population in Europe, now about 5.9 percent, will grow to 10 percent.
By 2050, the number of countries that have a Christian majority will decline from 159 to 151. Meanwhile, countries where Muslims hold the majority will increase by two to 51 countries compared with 2010.
Some of the countries where Christians will lose majority status include the U.K., Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the Republic of Macedonia, according to Pew.
In the United States, the population of Christians will drop from more than 78.3 percent in 2010 to 66.4 percent in 2050. In comparison, the Muslim population will increase to 2.1 percent from less than 1 percent while Jews will fall from 1.8 percent to 1.4 percent.
The fast growth rate of Muslims worldwide is attributed to a youthful population and generally high fertility rates estimated at 3.3 children per woman compared with the fertility rate of Christians, about 2.7 children per woman.
According to the Pew Research Center report, much of the growth will occur in developing countries where birth rates have increased and infant mortality decreased.
“Religions with many adherents in developing countries – where birth rates are high and infant mortality rates generally have been falling – are likely to grow quickly. Much of the worldwide growth of Islam and Christianity, for example, is expected to take place in sub-Saharan Africa.”
The study also found that in the next four decades, the number of people who identify as atheist or agnostic or with no religious affiliation will decrease from 16 percent of the global population to 13 percent. Much of the world’s population falling under this category live in the United States and Europe, which have graying and slow-growing populations.
A significant number of the unaffiliated are also found in China, where religious affiliation is officially restricted.
The study pointed out that about two-thirds of the world’s unaffiliated live in China, but noted, “If Chinese authorities allow greater freedom of religion, the share of unaffiliated in the world population could shrink even more dramatically than the report predicts.”
According to Pew, the projected changes could have profound social and political impact.
“Will prejudice against Muslims rise as the percentage of people in Europe who are Muslim climbs to 10.2 percent, up from today’s 5.9 percent?
“Who will assume the minority voice in the U.S. public square as Muslims outpace Jews as the country’s third-largest group, after Christians and the unaffiliated?
“Will religious tensions flare as India becomes the world’s most populous Muslim nation, supplanting Indonesia?
“How will more secular regions such as Europe and the U.S. relate to deeply religious regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, divided among Christians and Muslims?”
The study was sponsored by the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project.
[Image: Wikimedia Commons]