Between now and 2050, Christians will remain the largest religious group in the world, but research suggests that the Islamic population will grow faster than any other, rapidly closing the gap between the two leading religions.
Using data on age, fertility, mortality, migration and religious switching for multiple religious groups around the world, Pew Research Center, a non-partisan fact tank based in North America, has produced demographic predictions for major religious groups around the world.
In 2010, Christianity was the world’s most prolific religion with an estimated 2.2 billion followers (nearly a third of all people on earth). Islam was second, with 1.6 billion adherents.
According to Pew, “between 2010 and 2050, the world’s total population is expected to rise to 9.3 billion, a 35 per cent increase. Over that same period, Muslims – a comparatively youthful population with high fertility rates – are projected to increase by 73 per cent. The number of Christians also is projected to rise, but more slowly, at about the same rate (35 per cent) as the global population overall.
“As a result, according to the Pew Research projections, by 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30 per cent of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31 per cent), possibly for the first time in history.”
The projected growth of Islam is partly based on the fact that Muslims have the highest fertility rate, at an average of 3.1 children per woman – well above the replacement level (2.1), the minimum typically needed to maintain a stable population. The fertility rate among Christians sits at 2.7 children per woman.
“Christians are expected to experience the largest net losses from switching [to another religion]. Globally, about 40 million people are projected to switch into Christianity, while 106 million are projected to leave, with most joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated,” Pew reports.
And in a blow to Aussie Christians, Pew has predicted that Australia is one of eight nations that will no longer have a Christian majority by 2050.
“Christians are projected to drop below 50 per cent of the population in Australia, Benin, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Republic of Macedonia and the United Kingdom.”