8-in-10 People Identify with Religious Faith
The Global Religious Landscape
Muslims and Hindu populations world over have far more younger people among them than other religious groups. Average age of Muslim is 23 while it is 26 for the Hindus. 99% of Hindus and Buddhists and 66% Muslims live in Asia-Pacific region. 99% Hindus and 77% Muslims live in Hindu majority and Muslim majority countries respectively.
Washington D.C.: Worldwide, more than eight-in-ten people identify with a religious group. A comprehensive demographic study of more than 230 countries and territories conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, estimates that there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.
The demographic study, released on December 18, 2012, based on analysis of more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers, finds 2.2 billion Christians (32% of the world’s population), 1.6 billion Muslims (23%), 1 billion Hindus (15%), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7%) and 14 million Jews (0.2%) around the world as of 2010. In addition, more than 400 million people (6%) practise various folk or traditional religions, including African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions. An estimated 58 million people – slightly less than 1% of the global population – belong to other religions, including the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism, to mention just a few.
At the same time, the new study by the Pew Forum also finds that roughly one-in-six people around the globe (1.1 billion, or 16%) have no religious affiliation. This makes the unaffiliated the third-largest religious group worldwide, behind Christians and Muslims, and about equal in size to the world’s Catholic population. Surveys indicate that many of the unaffiliated, hold some religious or spiritual beliefs (such as belief in God or a universal spirit) even though they do not identify with a particular faith.
The geographic distribution of religious groups varies considerably. Several religious groups are heavily concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region, including the vast majority of Hindus (99%), Buddhists (99%), adherents of folk or traditional religions (90%) and members of other world religions (89%).
Three-quarters of the religiously unaffiliated (76%) also live in the massive and populous Asia- Pacific region. Indeed, the number of religiously unaffiliated people in China alone (about 700 million) is more than twice the total population of the United States.
The Asia-Pacific region also is home to most of the world’s Muslims (62%). About 20% of Muslims live in the Middle East and North Africa, and nearly 16% reside in sub-Saharan Africa.
Of the major religious groups covered in this study, Christians are the most evenly dispersed. Roughly equal numbers of Christians live in Europe (26%), Latin America and the Caribbean (24%) and sub-Saharan Africa (24%).
A plurality of Jews (44%) live in North America, while about four-in-ten (41%) live in the Middle East and North Africa – almost all of them in Israel.
Living as Majorities and Minorities
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of the world’s people live in countries in which their religious group makes up a majority of the population. Only about a quarter (27%) of all people live as religious minorities. (This figure does not include subgroups of the eight major groups in this study, such as Shia Muslims living in Sunni-majority countries or Catholics living in Protestant-majority countries).
Overwhelmingly, Hindus and Christians tend to live in countries where they are in the majority. Fully 97% of all Hindus live in the world’s three Hindu-majority countries (India, Mauritius and Nepal), and nearly nine-in-ten Christians (87%) are found in the world’s 157 Christian-majority countries. Though by smaller margins, most Muslims (73%) and religiously unaffiliated people (71%) also live in countries in which they are the predominant religious group. Muslims are a majority in 49 countries, including 19 of the 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The religiously unaffiliated make up a majority of the population in six countries, of which China is by far the largest. The others are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hong Kong, Japan and North Korea.
Israel is the only country with a Jewish majority. There are no countries where members of other religions (such as Baha’is, Jains, Shintoists, Sikhs, Taoists, followers of Tenrikyo, Wiccans and Zoroastrians) make up a majority of the population. There are also no countries where people who identify with folk or traditional religions clearly form a majority.
Some religions have much younger populations, on average, than others. The median age of two major groups – Muslims (23 years) and Hindus (26) – is younger than the median age of the world’s overall population (28). All the other groups are older than the global median. Christians have a median age of 30, followed by members of other religions (32), adherents of folk or traditional religions (33), the religiously unaffiliated (34) and Buddhists (34). Jews have the highest median age (36), more than a dozen years older than the youngest group, Muslims.
This study is based on self-identification. It seeks to estimate the number of people around the world who view themselves as belonging to various religious groups. It does not attempt to measure the degree to which members of these groups actively practice their faiths or how religious they are.
The religiously unaffiliated population includes atheists, agnostics and people who do not identify with any particular religion in surveys. However, many of the religiously unaffiliated do hold religious or spiritual beliefs. For example, various surveys have found that belief in God or a higher power is shared by 7% of unaffiliated Chinese adults, 30% of unaffiliated French adults and 68% of unaffiliated U.S. adults.6
To discuss the geographic distribution of religious groups, this report divides the world into six major regions: Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, North America and sub-Saharan Africa. For a list of countries in each region, see the Methodology.
Although some faiths in the “other religions” category have millions of adherents around the world, censuses and surveys in many countries do not measure them specifically. Estimates of the global size of these faiths generally come from other sources, such as the religious groups themselves. By far the largest of these groups are Sikhs, who number about 25 million, according to the World Religion Database.