The Global Religious Landscape
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 – 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%) practice 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. (See Religiously Unaffiliated.)
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. (To see the religious composition of each country, see Religious Composition by Country table.)
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.)
Most members of the other major religious groups live in countries in which they are in the minority. Seven-in-ten Buddhists (72%), for example, live as religious minorities. Just three-in-ten (28%) live in the seven countries where Buddhists are in the majority: Bhutan, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
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.
Young and Old
Some religions have much younger populations, on average, than others. In part, the age differences reflect the geographic distribution of religious groups. Those with a large share of adherents in fast-growing, developing countries tend to have younger populations. Those concentrated in China and in advanced industrial countries, where population growth is slower, tend to be older.
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.
1 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. For more information, see Spotlight on Other Religions.
2 For a discussion of the challenges of measuring the pervasiveness of folk or traditional religions, see the section on Folk Religionists.
3 The median in a population is the midpoint when the entire population is ordered by some characteristic, such as age or income. If everyone alive in 2010 lined up from youngest to oldest, the person in the middle (the median) would be 28 years old.