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The future size of religiously affiliated and unaffiliated populations

Author

Listed:
  • Conrad Hackett

    (Pew Research Center)

  • Marcin Stonawski

    (Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU))

  • Michaela Potančoková

    (Joint Research Centre (JRC))

  • Brian J. Grim

    (Boston University)

  • Vegard Skirbekk

    (Columbia University)

Abstract

Background: People who are religiously unaffiliated (including self-identifying atheists and agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is "nothing in particular") made up 16.4% of the world's population in 2010. Unaffiliated populations have been growing in North America and Europe, leading some to expect that this group will grow as a share of the world's population. However, such forecasts overlook the impact of demographic factors, such as fertility and the large, aging unaffiliated population in Asia. Objective: We project the future size of religiously affiliated and unaffiliated populations around the world. Methods: We use multistate cohort-component methods to project the size of religiously affiliated and unaffiliated populations. Projection inputs such as religious composition, differential fertility, and age structure data, as well as religious switching patterns, are based on the best available census and survey data for each country. This research is based on an analysis of more than 2,500 data sources. Results: Taking demographic factors into account, we project that the unaffiliated will make up 13.2% of the world’s population in 2050. The median age of religiously affiliated women is six years younger than unaffiliated women. The 2010-15 Total Fertility Rate for those with a religious affiliation is 2.59 children per woman, nearly a full child higher than the rate for the unaffiliated (1.65 children per woman). Conclusions: The religiously unaffiliated are projected to decline as a share of the world's population in the decades ahead because their net growth through religious switching will be more than offset by higher childbearing among the younger affiliated population.

Suggested Citation

  • Conrad Hackett & Marcin Stonawski & Michaela Potančoková & Brian J. Grim & Vegard Skirbekk, 2015. "The future size of religiously affiliated and unaffiliated populations," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 32(27), pages 829-842.
  • Handle: RePEc:dem:demres:v:32:y:2015:i:27
    DOI: 10.4054/DemRes.2015.32.27
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    File URL: https://www.demographic-research.org/volumes/vol32/27/32-27.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. William Mosher & Linda Williams & David Johnson, 1992. "Religion and fertility in the United States: New patterns," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 29(2), pages 199-214, May.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    religion; projections; fertility; demographic change; secularization; religious affiliation;

    JEL classification:

    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • Z0 - Other Special Topics - - General

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