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Religious people live in larger households, Pew study finds

17 January 2020

Large Christian families in sub-Saharan Africa offset by smaller European ones


Families in sub-Saharan Africa are larger

Families in sub-Saharan Africa are larger

RELIGIOUS people live in larger households — those that contain more individuals — than people of no religious affiliation, on average, worldwide.

This is the main finding of a new Pew Research Center report, published last month. Researchers analysed a range of censuses and social surveys from governments in 130 countries, since 2010, to explore the relationship between religion and living circumstances.

Muslims, the report concludes, live in the largest households, those with the most people. The average Muslim individual lives with an average of 6.4 people, followed by Hindus at 5.7 people.

The average for Christians is 4.5 — large families in sub-Saharan Africa being offset by smaller ones in Europe. Buddhists (3.9), Jews (3.7), and the religiously unaffiliated or “nones” (3.7) — people who do not identify with an organised religion — live in smaller households, on average.

These figures, the report explains, are calculated “from the perspective of the average person” rather than an average household: for example, out of ten people, if one person lives alone, and nine live together, the average household is five people. The average person in both households, however, lives with an average of 8.2 people (because nine people live with nine others, one person lives alone).

Therefore, it is possible that “Worldwide, the average household has 3.9 members, but the average person lives in a household of 4.9 members.”

The “types” of households are also considered in the report and include extended families (where relatives such as aunts, parents, and grandparents are present), two parents, married or cohabiting couples (including same-sex couples), an adult child living with two parents, single parents, and polygamous households.

On average, most religious people live in extended or two-parent households. This closely reflects the global population averages (38 and 51 per cent).

PEW RESEARCH CENTERAverage household size

Buddhists and “nones” are the least likely to live in two-parent households. Jews are the most likely to live alone (ten per cent), compared with Hindus and Muslims (one per cent). Muslims are the most likely to live in a polygamous household (five per cent) compared with other religions (fewer than 0.5 per cent). Polygamy is most common in Burkino Faso, where it involves 36 per cent of the population.

The report suggests that the statistics are influenced by religious teachings on family and homes, including procreation, marriage, polygamy, divorce, and the extended family. For example, it says that, while “bearing, raising and protecting children is a central theme in many religions. . . Buddhism is not considered to be particularly pro-natalist, which some scholars have tied to relatively low fertility rates in that religious group.”

More Christians live in single-parent homes (six per cent) than members of any other religious group worldwide (between two and four per cent). Women, particularly Christian women, are more likely than men to live as single parents.

In the United States — which has the world’s largest Christian population — about one quarter of children live in single-parent homes, making them more likely than children in any other country to do so. This means that children in Christian homes in the US are just as likely as those in unaffiliated homes to live in single-parent situations (23 per cent each).

The geography, economy, size, law, and cultural norms of the country or region of residence are major influencing factors. On average, individuals in developing countries are more likely to live in households with a large extended family than individuals in Europe and North America, the two wealthiest regions, where smaller households are more common.

The report explains: “Financial and other resources stretch farther when shared within one household. . . Supporting a family in developing countries is often labour-intensive. . . [and] families have a greater responsibility to care for ageing relatives.”

In Senegal, for example, Muslims live, on average, in 14-person households, while Christians live in homes of about nine members. In Nigeria, a nine-member household is the average Muslim’s experience, while the average Christian lives in a six-person home.

The uneven distribution of religious groups around the world is also a factor, the report states. “Christians are the most evenly scattered, with no more than a quarter living in any one region. The majority of Muslims, meanwhile, live in the Asia-Pacific region, but there are also large Muslim populations in the Middle East-North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa regions.”

Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest average household size of 6.9 compared with a world average of 4.9 and an average of 3.1 in Europe. Most people in both regions, however, live in extended or two-parent households. The largest average household by region is 12.6 in Mali. Germans, Danes, and Swedes have the smallest households in Europe (an average of 2.7). The average household size in the UK is three people.

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