June 03, 2016 by: Ben Heimsath

Last year, the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life released a first of its kind statistical projection of global religious affiliations through the year 2050. At the time, much attention was given to other Pew research on the rapidly changing American religious scene, but this global projection data wasn’t as widely discussed. The study, Future World Religion, Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050, categorized information by country, by age, and by major faith groups including the unaffiliated. The data takes into account patterns of migration and birthrates, and includes estimates of people who switch religions.

Projected Change in Global Population

The conclusions are admittedly based on current trends and data, and are subject to revision. But the rapid shifts noted in the US statistics are just a small portion of the big changes suggested by these projections. Overall, there’s projected growth in Christianity, though as a percentage of the total, it remains at 34%. Growth in Muslim faiths will be at a higher rate, so much so that the total number of Muslims will nearly equal that of Christians. Though there’s growth projected for the Hindu religion, the percentage remains flat. There’s mostly modest growth for the remaining major religions, but all remain flat or decline as a portion of the total.

Accounting for much of the growth, Muslim and Christian religions are well established in areas of large population increases, most notably sub-Saharan Africa. Whereas the unaffiliated are growing fastest in areas with low fertility and aging populations, North America, Europe, China, and Japan. It is interesting to note that the unaffiliated, while growing globally, will actually fall in their ranking percentage.

Projected Cumulative Change Due to Religious Switching, 2010-2050 

The total amount of switching is particularly notable. The largest numbers of those switching in or out of religions are Christians and the unaffiliated. As a net total, 61 million people will have joined the ranks of the unaffiliated over the 40 year period. In contrast, a net total, 66 million people will have left the Christian religion over the same period of time.  

The Pew Center intends to continue to update the data in the coming years. This is certainly one to watch!

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