By Harriet Sherwood
5 April 2017
The number of babies born to Muslims is
expected to overtake those born to Christians within two decades, making Islam
the world’s largest religion by 2075, according to new analysis of data by the
Pew Research Centre.
People with no religious affiliation are
set to shrink as a proportion of the world’s population as a result of their declining
birth-rate and growing numbers of Muslims and Christians.
The analysis points to modest but
significant demographic shifts in religious affiliation over the coming
decades, as populations in the global south continue to grow rapidly and
Christian populations in Europe age and die.
Between 2010 and 2015, an estimated 31% of
babies born in the world were to Muslim parents, far exceeding the 24% share of
the world’s population held by Muslims. In the same period, 33% of the world’s
babies were born to Christians, only slightly higher than their 31% share of
the global population.
That is set to change, owing to the
relatively young age profile of Muslims and their higher fertility rates.
Between 2030 and 2035, slightly more babies (225 million) will be born to
Muslims than to Christians (224 million). Between 2055 and 2060, the gap is
expected to widen to 6 million – 232m births to Muslims, and 226m to
Meanwhile, deaths among Christians in
Europe are far outstripping births. In Germany, between 2010 and 2015, there
was estimated 1.4m more deaths than births among Christians. Pew said the
pattern was expected to continue across much of Europe in the decades ahead.
Despite a relatively young and fertile
Christian population in sub-Saharan Africa, Christians have accounted for a
disproportionate 37% of the world’s deaths in recent years.
“In contrast with [the] baby boom among
Muslims, people who do not identify with any religion are experiencing a much
different trend,” said Pew. Religiously unaffiliated people make up 16% of the
global population, but only produce 10% of the world’s babies.
“This dearth of newborns among the
unaffiliated helps explain why religious ‘nones’ (including people who identify
as atheist or agnostic, as well as those who have no particular religion) are
projected to decline as a share of the world’s population in the coming
By 2055-2060, 9% of all babies will be born
to religiously unaffiliated women, while more than 70% will be born to either
Muslims (36%) or Christians (35%), said Pew.
Religiously unaffiliated people are
“heavily concentrated in places with ageing populations and low fertility, such
as China, Japan, Europe and North America. By contrast, religions with many
adherents in developing countries – where birth-rates are high and infant
mortality rates 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,” said Pew.
In 2015, of the world’s 7.3bn people,
Christians were the largest religious group, at 31%. Muslims were second at
24%, followed by religious “nones” (16%), Hindus (15%) and Buddhists (7%).
Jews, adherents of folk religions (faiths associated with a particular group of
people, ethnicity or tribe), and followers of other religions made up smaller
shares of the global population.
The projections did not assume that all
babies would retain the religion of their parents, but attempted to take
religious switching into account, although “conversion patterns are complex and
varied”, said Pew.