The future map of religions reveals a world of change for Christians, Muslims and Jews

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Kashmiri Muslims pray upon seeing a relic of Prophet Mohammad being displayed to devotees, during the festival of Eid-e-Milad at Hazratbal shrine on a cold winter morning in Srinagar on January 4, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Danish Ismail 
*Editors: This photo may only be published with RNS-PEW-RELIGION, originally transmitted on April 2, 2015.

Kashmiri Muslims pray upon seeing a relic of Prophet Mohammad being displayed to devotees, during the festival of Eid-e-Milad at Hazratbal shrine on a cold winter morning in Srinagar on January 4, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Danish Ismail *Editors: This photo may only be published with RNS-PEW-RELIGION, originally transmitted on April 2, 2015.

Click on “Projecting the World’s Faith” below to begin a slideshow of each graphic in full size. Religion News Service graphics by Tiffany McCallen

(RNS) Muslims will overtake Christians by the end of this century.

India, now mostly Hindu, will become the world’s largest Muslim country.

The numbers of people with no religious identity will soar in the United States and Europe, but the unaffiliated will lose worldwide market share as Christians maintain a steady growth.

All these changes are drawn from the Pew Research Center’s new  projections, released Thursday (April 2), that map global faith traditions and how they’re likely to shift by 2050.

The report says nothing about the transcendent message of any religion. It makes no claims about believers’ level of devotion or practice.

Instead, it’s a story of nitty-gritty statistics: Which group is having babies (lots of babies or just a few)? Which ones have many young people, and which are slowly graying out? Whose followers are on the move — from one nation to another, or switching religions?

"Projections: Muslim growth" graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

“Projections: Muslim growth” graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

“Demographics are an underappreciated force that is shifting the contours of faith,” said Conrad Hackett, the Pew demographer who led the six-year study. Hackett analyzed projected changes for Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, folk religions, other minority religions and the unaffiliated.

Those contours matter. The Pew Research Center doesn’t delve into political forecasting, but readers of the report’s projections from 2010 to 2050 might feel a thumb press down on many sore spots and raise questions beyond the scope of Pew’s data:

  • 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?  “The projected growth rate is only about 1 percentage point a decade,” said Hackett. “But it’s a very visible change: More people wearing veils, more behaving in culturally distinct ways.”
  • 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? “The quality of interfaith relations in such a country (about to pass China as the world’s most populous) will be of global importance,” said Alan Cooperman, Pew’s director of religion research.
  • 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 question is: ‘How will we understand each other?’” said Cooperman. “Sub-Saharan Africa is 12 percent of the world population now, and it will be 20 percent by 2050. That’s huge growth for people to get their heads around.”

The report, sponsored by the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, offers many more head-spinning numbers and a religion-by-religion, region-by-region analysis of data from 198 countries and territories, representing nearly all the world’s population.

"Projections: Overall global projections" graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

“Projections: Overall global projections” graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

“No one has done anything like this before, so we had no idea about the big picture,” said Hackett.

Among the major findings:

  • “As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third of the Earth’s 6.9 billion people. Islam came in second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent of the global population.” Four in 10 of all the world’s Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050.
  • While Christian numbers will continue to grow, Muslims, who are younger and have  a higher birth rate, will outpace them. By 2050, “there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30 percent of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31 percent), possibly for the first time in history.” Barring unforeseen events — war, famine, disease, political upheaval and more — Muslim numbers will surpass Christians after 2070. 
  • Worldwide, the unaffiliated will fall from 16 percent to 13 percent. Christians, Muslims and Hindus live in areas with “bulging youth populations,” high birthrates and falling levels of infant mortality, the report said. Even the global tally for Jews is expected to rise, based on the high birthrate of Orthodox Jews in Israel. Meanwhile, the unaffiliated are “heavily concentrated in places with low fertility and aging populations, such as Europe, North America, China and Japan,” the report said. 
  • Nearly two-thirds of all the unaffiliated worldwide live in China, the research found. “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,” said Ariela Keysar, associate director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, who consulted on the project.
  • While religious switching has a significant impact in North America and Europe, in many countries, changing one’s religion is difficult — if not illegal. There’s no data on religious switching among China’s 1.3 billion people, with nearly 50 percent of them in the unaffiliated ranks, for example. But in the 70 countries where survey data was available, the report found that Buddhists and Jews are the primary losers on the switch-in/switch-out balance sheet, Hackett said.  “In the USA, there are famous converts like Richard Gere, but there’s a lot of disaffiliation among those who grew up Buddhist.”

    "Projections: U.S. religious composition" graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

    “Projections: U.S. religious composition” graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

  • In the U.S., Christians will decline, from more than three-quarters of the population (78.3 percent) in 2010 to two-thirds (66.4 percent) in 2050. Religious “churn” — people leaving their childhood faith for a different faith or none at all — is the primary driver of change.
  • The Muslim share of the U.S. population is projected to climb to 2.1 percent, up from less than 1 percent today. Jews will fall from 1.8 percent to 1.4 percent.
  • In 2010, there were 159 countries with a Christian majority, but that will fall by eight countries, including France, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.  By 2050, Muslims will hold the majority in 51 countries, up by two from 2010, including Nigeria, which just elected a Muslim president, and the Republic of Macedonia.

“In many ways the value of projects like this is not to say what the world will look like in 2050. The world could change,” said Cooperman. “But they tell us about the world today and the recent path. Peering into the future greatly illuminates what is happening today and its consequences.”


  • D Sutherland

    According to Drudge report Muslim population is U.S will triple by 2030.

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  • opheliart

    several wives per hubby … mothers pregnant at a young age …

    Would anyone care to dispute this? I am all ears.

  • Dillard

    Extrapolate that using Geometric Progression and the numbers are no joke.By the turn of next century we shall have allah dictating laws and regulations for planet earth. “Nones” may increase in an arithmentic sequence but it will be nothing compared to the former. Also, ‘nones’ most likely will suffer a burnout as “nones” offer no hope for mankind and will be forced to follow allah.

    May God have mercy on future generations!

  • Jon

    Ophilia – Just to clarify, what are you asking? The Old Testament ideal? Yes, that’s what’s in there. Sub -Saharan Africa? Yes as well (both Muslims and Christians follow the pattern you describe). The Middle East? Yes. Others?

  • opheliart

    Jon, I am asking if today this is the culture/practices, and if so, where exactly are these currently practiced that would allow for such a rapid rise in numbers. Do we have exact numbers (wives-children) for Islamic households in America for instance?

  • Bob

    The decline is not as simplistic as stated above, first there will be a decline in

    *moral values,
    *rampant divorce rates,
    *traditional family values
    *feminism with nothing accomplished for the greater good of society a.k.a feminism with no real purpose.

    When all the above happen, it automatically weakens the society, when a society becomes weak it then becomes vulnerable to the enemy.

  • Jon

    Oh, OK.

    We have data showing that polygamy is common in Africa and the Middle East (that includes both Muslim and Christian polygamy). In America, it is outlawed, though shows such as sister wives and Big Love show examples of Christian polygamy here. I don’t see any evidence of Muslim polygamy in the United States. Polygamy is also practiced in SE Asia, again both Christian and Muslim – though there are many more Muslims in SE Asia than Christians. The wikipedia page on polygamy has a helpful map.

  • opheliart

    Jon: We have data showing that polygamy is common in Africa and the Middle East (that includes both Muslim and Christian polygamy). In America, it is outlawed, though shows such as sister wives and Big Love show examples of Christian polygamy here. I don’t see any evidence of Muslim polygamy in the United States. Polygamy is also practiced in SE Asia, again both Christian and Muslim – though there are many more Muslims in SE Asia than Christians. The wikipedia page on polygamy has a helpful map.

    Yes, polygamy in other countries, and these wives and children move to the US, under one ownership? And back and forth and back and forth … to build them numbers 🙂 Or dishonest practices under the nose of our government?
    Wouldn’t be the first time.

    Kind of like: Ohhh … we had no idea on the sex trafficking, we thought it was mission outreach!

  • Jon

    Data shows that much of the growth in Islam in the US is due to immigration, with some from Christians who convert to Islam. The polygamy situation you describe does not appear to be happening, and if it was, it would likely be common with Christians as well, since there is plenty of Christian polygamy in other countries as well.

  • opheliart

    “Christian Polygamy, too”

    Yes, this could be.

    “Does not appear to be happening”

    we shall see

  • opheliart
  • Jon

    Um, that article says nothing about polygamy.

  • Frank

    Speaking of “moral decline”, who woulda thunk? Sam harris was heard whining about “moral decay” 😉

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  • opheliart

    but it does involve women of a certain belief

    maybe a stretch … maybe not

  • Fourth Valley

    Ah yes!! The little known correlation between knowledge of explosives and plurality of spouses!!

    It’s why nations like Ireland with a strong bomb-making culture have such high levels of polygamy. It’s why J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the “fathers of the nuclear bomb”, had four-hundred and seven wives.

    Knowledge of explosives has direct correlation with having many spouses.

    Seriously, though, relevance of your article?? Just seems like crazy leaps in logic to me.

  • opheliart

    Excitable one, aren’t you? Maybe you’d like to come to Boston where our young Tsarnaev was given a nice education, was well-liked and even seemed to many to have a promising future in America …

    but what happened, Fourth? What happened to this young man? It’s not polygamy itself we are concerned about—IT IS THE INDOCTRINATION HAPPENING WHILE IN THE UNITED STATES.

    The more the merrier?

    Please show a little restraint. We all have the right to test the temperature to see what comes forth.

  • opheliart

    It’s clear you are the one that made the leap, Fourth, but nice to know where you stand on the matter—you and Khan.

  • “Worldwide, the unaffiliated will fall from 16 percent to 13 percent”

    This is the worst news possible.
    Religion has no interest in a Star Trek future of solutions and practical living.

    Instead we shall have Eschatological Armageddon.
    Muslims and Christians will fight nuclear wars instead of seeking sanity.
    Climate change will continue unabated as religion destroys science and science based policy even further in Muslim countries – which apparently will be dominant.

    We are headed back into the dark ages on a burnt up earth.

    Humanity is doomed as it prioritizes the invisible needs of the Sky Leprechauns they call ‘gods’.

    Science and reason were the alternative.
    What a nightmare as they will be abandoned for this criminal nonsense.

    Religion poisons everything.

  • Yeah. from 1% to 3%. Big whoop.

  • Sue

    Great comment Atheist Max. Sadly probably accurate re our future, next few critical decades at least -I keep hoping humankind will wake up from the nightmare known as religion (from Islam and Christianity especially).

    Sort of walking in the footsteps of the Easter Islanders, thanks to god beliefs….

  • Liz

    Max, don’t be too discouraged. The article clearly states the reason for our number declines for the future: “the unaffiliated are heavily concentrated in places with low fertility and aging populations, such as Europe, North America, China and Japan.”

    In other words, we will just be out-numbered by Muslims and Christians who take their procreation responsibility very seriously. Perhaps if we, the unaffiliated, start breeding like rabbits now, we can overtake the religious by 2050. Any volunteers? 🙂

  • Atheist Whacks

    Um, Earth to Atheist Max . . .

    It was science, with its reason, that invented nuclear weapons. And every other WMD.

    Also, it was science that invented ALL of the toxins that are killing this planet. Plastic does not grow on trees.

    Evolution I guess right?

  • Atheist Whacks

    Nope. I voluntarily became a Christian.

    Was an atheist before that.

  • opheliart


    can you provide more info on this— Thx

  • opheliart

    The above article posted on March 31st disappeared from the list of recently published articles, but it might fit into this discussion in that it shows the fracturing of the Religious.

  • opheliart

    For those liking the idea of polygamy.

    Something to consider …

  • opheliart

    I listened to the author, Tom Butler, being interviewed this morning. Sounds like this is worth a read.

  • opheliart
  • AW,

    “Science invented all the toxins….”

    Science cured the plague, cured bacterial infections, destroyed polio and made food safer to eat. Humans routinely live to 80 years old because of it.
    And Science can and would resolve global warming if big business were not able to use religion as a tool to manipulate its big money interests.

    Alternative fuels and widespread availability of contraception
    would stop global warming and overpopulation.

    But religion forbids those options!

    Glad you admit that religion brings us stone huts, raw vermin for lunch and death at 30 years old of cavities. No wonder you have to claim it comes with supernatural powers from a sky leprechaun – religion offers nothing of use otherwise.

  • Fran


    Those things are already happening in our day!!

  • Diogenes

    As to a “Star Trek future of solutions and practical living,” while some of technological aspects of the fantasy program have been realized; i.e. ‘communicators’ etc., the bulk of the issues the program dealt with remain with us and will continue to do so; war, hunger, hatred, tribalism, politics, and on and on, ad infinite. Application of science is no panacea for the human condition.

  • Saxon Warrior

    Not all religions poison, but Islam does.
    Atheists seem to blame religion on everything by conveniently forgetting that Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were all Atheists. But then again Atheists are not very bright.

  • @Saxon,

    “forgetting…Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot”

    Those Agrarian Utopian Cults are NOT examples of Atheism but are reflections of the same ignorant totalitarianism found in any religion.
    Besides, none of those examples provided separation of church and state -which is the only true guarantor of human rights.

    “Congress shall make no law establishing a religion…”

    The USA is the world’s only example of a truly Atheist, Agnostic, Secular, Government. It is also the only country which protects freedom of religion as well as freedom FROM religion.

  • @Diogenes,

    “Application of science is no panacea for the human condition.”

    1. Only religion claims a ‘panacea’. Not science!
    2. Only religion claims a perfect solution to all problems. Not science!

    Science is the best we have. It is a disgrace that religion claims the right to abolish it whenever it wants to! Such ignorance.

    The scientific method is the best reliable means of inquiry to determine what is true and what is false. There is absolutely NO EVIDENCE that any religion has ever solved any problems of any kind for any culture EVER!

  • @Liz,

    “we unaffiliated..start breeding like rabbits..”

    Sex. I’m all for it. 🙂
    But babies? done that.

    It is interesting that women who are free and emancipated from religion routinely reject the idea of having more than 2 babies. Contraception is saving marriages, reducing poverty and increasing wealth in the West.
    Religion stands in the way of all that.

    Based on this report, religion stands to create more misery – especially for Muslim women – for 100 years at least.

    May humanity survive it.

  • Aaaaaaaaaaargh

    umm, “No True Scotsman” much? I’m not the type to go blaming Stalin/Mao/PP’s murders on their atheism…clearly it was an excess of bad ideology (granted, an ideology at least partially typified and influenced by atheism). but it’s baffling that you imply the lack of church/state separation in those regimes has anything relevant to say to their deplorable record on human rights, as if somehow the respective Russian Orthodox/Confucian/Buddhist religious types were mainly responsible for the mass murders that ensued.

    also, separation of church and state = secular, yes. = a good thing, yes (as atheism may be). but = atheism? can’t say I’ve heard that one before.

  • Atheism – “I don’t know if god exists. I don’t believe it does”

    The founders did not believe in Jesus Christ.
    The founders did not believe in Yahweh
    The founders did not believe in Allah

    The founders publicly accepted Deism – which has no beliefs, no doctrine, no laws, and no name for the Deity but relies on reason and rationale answers while disposing of supernatural claims.

    Pol Pot claimed claimed adherence to absolute truths of the Agrarian proletariat and supernatural Therevada Buddhism. He saw himself as having a divine and absolute truth. That is not Atheism.

    Stalin was a Seminarian of the Russian Orthodox Church who applied his education to manipulating the masses with Lysenko’s Miracles and his cultish seizure of CZAR, a religious title. Using religion to do what religion has always done: Total control.

    The Cult of Mao is self expository. not Atheism.

    Vegetarianism by itself isn’t a religion.
    But Enforced Totalitarianist Vegetarianism would be…

  • Man certainly does NOT know which way the wind will blow when it comes to religion, though I am sure he likes to think he does. Jesus said the Holy Spirit is like the wind we do not know from where it comes or where it is going. The world may race faster and faster to the last days and final tribulation period or God may decide to once again send a revival as He has done in the past by His Holy Spirit. God only knows the future, not man. We need to respond to God’s invitation of eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ while there is still time. A day will come when that invitation will know longer go out. Receive Christ as Savior and Lord, turn away from sin and follow Him as He leads you by His Holy Spirit, then you will know God’s peace and blessing in your life. God Bless

  • Michael Glass

    While the Pew Center might be right about believers having more babies than atheists, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the demographics will stay the same and it doesn’t imply that children brought up in religious households will automatically follow the beliefs of their parents.

    In 1960s Australia, the Catholic Church had a high birth rate, a high immigration rate and plenty of vocations for the priesthood. And yes, the Catholic proportion of the population did increase. However, the big news of the last half century and more has been the decline of religion. Vocations have plummeted and despite the historically higher birth rates and the current high immigration rate, numbers are largely stagnant.

    All over the world, religions are running scared. In Egypt, there’s a moral panic about the rise in atheism, in Saudi Arabia the authorities have had to resort to draconian measures to stamp out free expression.

    Faith and doubt have always coexisted. Neither will fade away.

  • Shawnie5

    “The founders did not believe in Jesus Christ.”

    Some did, some did not.

    “The founders publicly accepted Deism – which has no beliefs,”

    False — it features belief. Even those founders who WERE deist specifically professed belief in God and in an afterlife.

    ” no doctrine, no laws…”

    False. The founders’ “doctrines” and the laws which they specifically said derive from “Almighty God” run throughout their collected writings and the Federalist Papers.

    They had all kinds of names for the Deity. Almighty God, Creator, Providence, Redeemer…haven’t you ever opened a book?

    “…while disposing of supernatural claims.”

    Riiiiight. Which is why they frequently called the people to national prayer.

  • Shawnie5

    “Pol Pot claimed claimed adherence to absolute truths of the Agrarian proletariat and supernatural Therevada Buddhism”

    Riiight…he was such a Buddhist that he outlawed Buddhism and tortured and executed the Buddhist monks. Early exposure to Buddhism no more made him a Buddhist than your Catholic background makes you a Catholic.

    “Stalin was a Seminarian of the Russian Orthodox Church”

    See above.

    “Lysenko’s Miracles ”

    There was nothing miraculous claimed about Lysenko’s theories. It was nothing but faulty science that had Stalin convinced.

    “…his cultish seizure of CZAR, a religious title.”

    Czar means “Caesar.” In other words, emperor.

    Are you really this ignorant? Or are you deliberately misrepresenting facts in order to convert the ignorant? Neither option speaks well of you, although ignorance can be fixed as long as it’s not willful…

  • Jack

    Not so fast, Max. You missed some paradoxes about population growth. Without it, there is no prosperity. But with prosperity comes a reduction in children, which can lead to population stagnation, which in turn, leads to zero economic growth and a cloudy economic future.

    And if too few children are born, we end up with Social Security and pension crises in the future, as not enough people will be in the workforce to support the elderly. And as life spans continue to expand, the problem could worsen.

    Thank God we accept plenty of immigrants or we would be facing the problems of Japan or other no-growth countries.

    And then there’s China…. when hundreds of millions grow old, who will support them? China’s decades-long one-child-only policy may produce a humanitarian crisis of monumental proportions.

  • Jack

    All the pioneers of modern science from several centuries ago were theists, Max. And if you were more of a reader, you’d be familiar with the arguments of philosophers that say that the rise of modern science was inconceivable absent western theistic premises about (1) the universe reflecting its creator, a transcendent God of order and (2) human beings having the same transcendent character by virtue of having a soul and thus being capable of standing outside of it, so to speak, and coming up with truly objective findings. I don’t know how one could have proceeded with science in the first place without a prior belief in a subject/object relationship, which depends on (1) and (2).

    So the idea that science and faith are unalterably opposed is yet another example of the narrow-minded bigotry of people who are ignorant of the history of science.

  • Jack

    Max is the board’s emperor of the No True Scotsman logical fallacy.

  • Jack

    No western religion = no rise of modern science.

    All of the assumptions needed to proceed with science in the first place depended on belief in the validity of a western theistic world view. It is no coincidence that the first modern scientists (1) were not atheists and (2) were not pantheists. They were believers in a transcendent deity who created an orderly universe and gave people the same ability to transcend nature by virtue of having souls as the deity had….and being able to transcend nature, have the ability to come up with truly objective findings about that which they were studying. If you believe all of you is a part of nature, and no part of you stands beyond it, the idea of objectivity is annihilated.

  • Shawnie5

    Absolutely. Except that it can not work for him. We as Christians have an exemplar of Christianity in the words and actions of Christ. There is no exemplar of atheism. He is stuck with anyone who cares to assume the title of atheist, along with all their actions.