Both faiths to have nearly the same number of adherents by 2050
Youthfulness and fertility are two factors that will help Islam come close to becoming the world’s dominant religion in just a few short decades.
That prediction is the heart of a new study by the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life.
"Between 2010 and 2050, the world’s total population is expected to rise to 9.3 billion, a 35% increase," the study says. "Over that same period, Muslims—a comparatively youthful population with high fertility rates—are projected to increase by 73%. The number of Christians also is projected to rise, but more slowly, at about the same rate (35%) as the global population overall."
That means that by mid-century, there may be 2.92 billion Christians on the planet Earth, as opposed to the 2.17 billion there are now, and 2.76 billion Muslims, over a billion more than there are now.
The closing gap between the two religions is more dramatic when considered according to the percentage of the world’s population. While the percentage of Earth’s inhabitatnts who follow Christ is expected to remain fairly constant, at the 31.4% it is now, the percentage of Muslims will shoot up from its current 23.2% to 29.7%.
Muslims and Christians are the two leading groups in fertility, the report says: "Globally, Muslims have the highest fertility rate, an average of 3.1 children per woman—well above replacement level (2.1), the minimum typically needed to maintain a stable population. Christians are second, at 2.7 children per woman."
The fact that 34% of Muslims in the world are under the age of 15 also helps ensure that Islam will grow faster than other religions. The share of Christians under that age is about the same as the world average, 27%.
The Pew study also projects that religious conversion will benefit Islam over the next three and a half decades, while Christianity will suffer a net loss due to religious switching. Acknowledging that "conversion patters are complex and varied," Pew predicts a net gain of 3.2 million Muslims and a loss of 66 million Christians.
Some of the other conclusions of the Pew study include:
- Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world’s total population.
- In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.
- India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.
- In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.
- Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.