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Is the World Getting Less Religious? Not So, Study Says

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Mark Stricherz - published on 04/08/15 - updated on 06/08/17

Pew study finds that as a share of global population, the "nones" will decline

The number of Americans and Europeans who are irreligious or don’t belong to a church has been growing for years. But their ranks as a share of global population will fall by 2050, according to a study from Pew Research:

These projections, which take into account demographic factors such as fertility, age composition and life expectancy, forecast that people with no religion will make up about 13% of the world’s population in 2050, down from roughly 16% as of 2010.

… Of the 10 countries with the largest unaffiliated populations in the world as of 2010, all are expected to decline as a share of the world’s population by 2050. This list includes the United States and nine countries in Asia or Europe, areas with lower fertility rates and older populations than other parts of the world (including Africa and the Middle East).


Read the last part of the
 sentence again. According to the study, the religiously un-affiliated or “nones” are less likely to have children and more likely to be older:

This is largely attributable to the fact that religious “nones” are, on average, older and have fewer children than people who are affiliated with a religion. In 2010, for instance, 28% of people who belong to any of the world’s religions were younger than 15 years old, compared with just 19% of the unaffiliated. And adherents of religions are estimated to give birth to an average of 2.6 children per woman, compared with an average of 1.7 children among the unaffiliated.

But isn’t the West becoming more secular as it gets wealthier? Maybe so, but the trend does not hold up in many other parts of the world, according to Big Think, a news and information site.  

While some have speculated that religious faith decreases as societies become more affluent, there is scant evidence for this trend beyond nations in Western Europe. No such phenomenon occurs in Muslim-majority countries, and in Hindu-majority India, "religious affiliation is still nearly universal despite rapid economic and social change."

China also represents an interesting case study since it does not keep reliable data on religious affiliation, though many believe Christianity is on the rise in the communist country. If that does prove true, the ratio of "nones" could decrease even more by 2050. 

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