NEW YORK, April 6 — For years, more babies were born to Christian women than to women of any other religion, but not for much longer: Islam is expected to take the global lead by 2035, according to a report released yesterday documenting the coming ebbs and flows of world religions.
Even as they change rank, Christianity and Islam are projected to expand their hold on the world’s newborn population from a combined 64 per cent of all babies born from 2010 to 2015 to 71 per cent of those born from 2055 to 2060, according to the report, prepared by the Pew Research Centre.
That baby boom will largely be driven by regional trends in age and fertility, according to Alan Cooperman, director of religion research at Pew.
“It’s really a geographic story,” he said.
From 2010 to 2015, Christian women gave birth to 223 million babies, about 10 million more than were born to Muslim women. But the authors of the Pew report predict a reversal of that pattern by 2060, when Muslim mothers are projected to give birth to 232 million babies, about 6 million more than their Christian counterparts.
That turnaround will be driven in part by the fact that the Christian population in some parts of the world, such as Europe, is relatively old, with deaths expected to outnumber births in the years to come. The world’s Muslim population, on the other hand, is relatively young and concentrated in regions with high fertility rates.
Still, the baby boom among Muslims and Christians is projected to help both religions capture a larger share of the global population by 2060, even as all other religions — and the unaffiliated population — lose ground.
The report’s findings are drawn from the same projections behind a 2015 Pew report that found that the world’s Muslim population will match its Christian population by 2070 and surpass it in the decades that follow.
Both rely on data collected over several years from more than 2,500 global censuses. The projections take into account trends in mortality, fertility, age, migration and religious switching.
The world’s morphing population will most likely be affected by a number of factors, but the changes will be driven largely by where each religion is concentrated today, the authors found.
The population unaffiliated with any religion, for instance, is projected to shrink slightly in the coming decades thanks to being found largely in parts of the world with ageing populations and low fertility rates, such as China, Europe, Japan and North America.
Sub-Saharan Africa, where fertility rates are high, will meanwhile be home to a growing share of the Christian and Muslim populations.
The share of the global Christian population that calls that region home is projected to rise to 42 per cent by 2060 from 26 per cent today. The share of the global Muslim population in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to rise to 27 per cent from 16 per cent over the same period.
Age will play a role, too. Today, the median age of Muslims is 24, compared with 27 for Hindus and 30 for Christians and the world overall. The median age for the world’s remaining religions is higher still.
Muslims also have higher fertility rates than the adherents of any other religion, with an average of 2.9 children per woman. Christians rank second, with 2.6 children per woman, followed by Hindus and Jews with a rate of 2.3 each.
Faith, of course, is not hereditary and switching of religions will play a role in the shifting religious composition of the world, albeit a role smaller than that of geography, age and fertility.
From 2015 to 2020, Christianity will suffer the greatest losses because of religious switching, gaining five million adherents while losing 13 million largely to the unaffiliated, Pew found. In the longer term, however, those gains to that unaffiliated population will be erased by other demographic factors. — The New York Times