ATHEISTS and people not affiliated to any religion will find
themselves in a shrinking minority over the next four decades, as
the faithful soar in number, projections in a report by Pew
Christians will remain the largest religious group in 2050,
growing in line with the global population, and thus remaining at
31 per cent. Islam will grow by 73 per cent, faster than any other
great religion, and will make up 29.7 per cent of the global
population (up from 23.2 per cent in 2010).
Although the atheists and unaffiliated will increase in absolute
number - from 1.1 billion to 1.2 billion - they will represent 13
per cent of the world's population, down from 16 per cent in 2010.
With the exception of Buddhists, all the main religious groups are
set to grow in absolute numbers.
Pew's report, The Future of World Religions, published
this month, suggests that the picture is largely determined by
differences in fertility rates and age profiles: "Religions with
many adherents in developing countries, where birth rates are high
and infant morality rates generally have been falling, are likely
to grow quickly."
Muslims have the world's highest fertility rate - 3.1 children
per woman compared with a global average of 2.5 - and 34 per cent
are under the age of 15. Christians have, on average, 2.7 children,
and 27 per cent are under 15. The non-religious are largely
concentrated in places that have low fertility and ageing
populations, with 1.7 children on average, and 19 per cent under
There are "vivid geographical differences", the report notes.
Much of the growth in Islam and Christianity is expected to take
place in sub-Saharan Africa, where 40 per cent of Christians in the
world will live by 2050. The proportion of the population which is
unaffiliated to any religion is set to grow in much of Europe and
the United States. In the latter, it is forecast to grow from 16
per cent to 26 per cent.
The report estimates that, by 2050, ten per cent of people in
Europe will be Muslims. The absolute number of Christians is
expected to decline, from 553 million to 454 million. In the UK,
the percentage of Christians is projected to fall from 64.3 per
cent to 45.4.
Of all religious groups, Christians are expected to experience
the largest net loss from people who switch religions; most of
these will join the unaffiliated. Just 30 per cent of people polled
in the UK describe themselves as "religious", another poll
suggests. More than half (53 per cent) said that they were "not
religious", and 13 per cent called themselves "convinced" atheists.
The remainder said "don't know".
WIN Gallup International interviewed 63,898 people across the
world at the end of last year. Almost two-thirds (63 per cent)
described themselves as "religious", 22 per cent said that they
were not, and 11 per cent defined themselves as convinced
Africa and the Middle East were the most religious regions:
respectively, 86 and 87 per cent of people there described
themselves as religious. This compares with 56 per cent in America
and 70 per cent in Russia. In China, 61 per cent of people claimed
to be convinced atheists - almost twice as many as in any other
Those under 34 tended to be more religious than their elders (66
per cent compared with 60 per cent). Those without an education
were the most religious (80 per cent). Income "appears to exert a
greater influence" than education, the report suggests. Among those
with medium-high and high incomes, less than 50 per cent said they
were religious, compared with 70 per cent of those with low,
medium-low, and medium incomes. The number of convinced atheists is
as high as 25 per cent among people with high incomes, but only six
per cent among those with low incomes.