Islam set to catch Christianity

by Karen L. Willoughby, |

WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – As birth rates lag among Christians and climb among Muslims, Islam will nearly equal Christianity among the global population by the year 2050, according to a recent report by the Pew Research Center.

Also among its findings, if current trends continue, the number of Christians in the United States will decline to two-thirds of the population by 2050 – it was three-fourths in 2010 – and the number of Muslims will surpass the number of Jews, making Islam the second-largest religion in the nation.

"The projections take into account the current size and geographic distribution of the world's major religions, age differences, fertility and mortality rates, international migration and patterns in conversion," according to the Pew Research Center's report released April 2.

In 2010, Christianity was proclaimed by an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, or 31 percent of the world's then 6.9 billion people. Islam was second with 1.6 billion people, about 23 percent, globally.

The world's population is expected to increase to 9.3 billion by 2050, according to 2010 projections by a United Nations study group, and a recent update bumped that figure to 9.55 billion. Pew estimates that among the predicted 35 percent increase in population growth, "Muslims – a comparatively youthful population with high fertility rates – are projected to increase by 73 percent."

"The number of Christians also is projected to rise," Pew predicts, "but more slowly, at about the same rate – 35 percent – as the global population overall."

Muslims by 2050 will have about 2.8 billion followers, or 30 percent of the total global population, and Christians with about 2.9 billion followers, will make up 31 percent of the people worldwide.

Among adherents of other major religions, the Hindu population is projected to rise by 34 percent globally, from about 1 billion to nearly 1.4 billion, and Jews, the smallest group for which projections were made, are expected to grow 16 percent, from about 14 million in 2010 to 16.1 million worldwide in 2050.

"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," according to the Pew study.

Other items of interest noted in the study:

  • In Europe, Muslims will make up 10 percent of the overall population by the year 2050.
  • India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the world's largest Muslim population, surpassing Indonesia.
  • Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Buddhism is the only religion likely to decline by 2050 in total number of adherents, though it will remain worldwide at about .49 percent of the world's population.