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Islam is on track to overtake Christianity, and more findings from Pew's religion report

Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

The Pew Research Center has released a new report using demographic trends to predict the state of world religions in 2050, 2070, and beyond. Here are just a few of the study's many striking projections.

1) Islam will overtake Christianity as the world's biggest religion after 2070

pew islam christianity

(Pew Research Center)

Islam is the youngest major religion; 34 percent of its followers are younger than 15 (compared with 27 percent for Christianity), according to the report. Muslims also have a higher average fertility rate, at 3.1 children per woman, compared with 2.7 for Christians.

2) Millions will convert to being "unaffiliated"

pew unaffiliated convert

(Pew Research Center)

Keep in mind that "unaffiliated" is not synonymous with "atheist/agnostic." As the report notes, "Surveys have found that belief in God or a higher power is shared by 7% of unaffiliated Chinese adults, 30% of unaffiliated French adults and 68% of unaffiliated U.S. adults."

3) But the unaffiliated share of the population will shrink

pew unaffiliated decline

(Pew Research Center)

China accounts for 61.9 percent of the world's unaffiliated population, and its population is projected to shrink both in absolute terms (from 1.34 billion to 1.3 billion) and as a share of the world's population (from nearly 20 percent to 14 percent) from 2010 to 2050. The share of China that's unaffiliated is expected to decline slightly, as well. The other countries with large unaffiliated populations — Japan, the United States, Russia, much of Western Europe — also have low fertility compared with the rest of the world, especially among the unaffiliated. The unaffiliated fertility rate in the US is 1.6 children per woman, well below replacement level.

4) There will be more Muslims than observant Jews in the US by 2050

pew jew muslim us

(Pew Research Center)

Note that for these purposes, "Jewish" means "religiously Jewish," rather than Jewish by ethnicity or culture; non-religious Jews are counted as unaffiliated. That said, a previous Pew study found that about 78 percent of American Jews identified as "Jewish by religion," so the definition here includes most of the American Jewish population.

5) France, Britain, and the Netherlands will no longer be majority Christian by 2050

pew christian majority

(Pew Research Center)

But Australia, the United Kingdom, and Benin will remain plurality Christian. Unaffiliated is expected to be the biggest group in France, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.

6) Islam is growing in Europe, but won't be overtaking Christianity anytime soon

islam europe

(Pew Research Center)

While it's become common for far-right xenophobes in Europe to warn that the continent is on the verge of becoming a Muslim-dominated "Eurabia," Muslims are projected to only make up 10.2 percent of its population by 2050. As Laurie Goodstein notes in her writeup of the report for the New York Times, "Within one or two generations of arriving in Europe, Muslim immigrants — like immigrants in general — tended to leave behind the high fertility rates of their home countries and had smaller families, much like other Europeans."

7) Hinduism will hold steady as a share of population, while Buddhism will decline

pew big picture

(Pew Research Center)

Hinduism is, of course, concentrated heavily in India, which is still growing in population, while Buddhism is more popular in East Asian countries that are seeing population growth slow or reverse. Another interesting wrinkle: while India will continue to be majority Hindu, its Muslim population is projected to be the biggest in the world by 2050, overtaking Indonesia, which currently holds that distinction.

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