The demography of belief worldwide

As we report elsewhere on Ekklesia (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17645), a new, comprehensive demographic study of more than 230 countries and territories conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life finds that more than eight-in-ten people worldwide identify with a religious group -- while the number of those unaffiliated with religion is on the rise, and now constitutes the third-largest global belief group.

Here is some more breakdown from this important report, which examines detailed data from 2010, the latest available in comprehensive terms.

Geographic Distribution

· 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.

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.

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. Most members of the other major religious groups live in countries in which they are in the minority.

The results of the survey and new report are based on a country-by-country analysis of data from more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and official population registers that were collected, evaluated and standardized by the staff of the Pew Forum over the past several years.

The report includes demographic profiles of eight religious groups and an estimate of the religious composition (breakdown by religion) of each country’s population as of 2010.

The full report, including a sortable data table, is available on the Pew Forum’s website here: http://www.pewforum.org/global-religious-landscape.aspx

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