NEW YORK – Over the next four decades, Islam is expected to grow faster than any other major religion worldwide, with the Muslim population nearly matching Christians in both number and share of the global population, according to projections released Thursday.
Christians will remain the largest religious group, increasing to 2.92 billion adherents by 2050 if current demographic trends continue. But Muslims will reach 2.76 billion, making each faith group about 30 percent of the world population, analysts from the Pew Research Center said.
The projections in the report, "The Future of World Religions," are based on birth and death rates, immigration patterns and rates of religious conversions, among other information found in censuses, demographic surveys and additional reports that asked people to identify what faith they follow.
Much of the growth of both Christianity and Islam will occur in Africa. But Muslims will also grow to comprise 10 percent of Europe's population and will outnumber Jews in the U.S. by mid-century.
India is expected to retain a Hindu majority, but the country will surpass Indonesia as the nation with the world's largest Muslim population. As a group, Muslims are younger and have more children than members of other faiths, driving their global growth, researchers said.
The report is the latest to measure how Christianity in developing countries is far outpacing the growth of the faith in the West. By 2050, 4 in 10 Christians are expected to be located in Africa. And Christians will no longer be a majority in the United Kingdom, France and Australia.
Atheists, agnostics and people who don't identify with a religion will increase in much of Europe and North America, but globally will drop from about 16 percent to 13 percent of the population. Within the U.S., people with no religious affiliation are projected to become more than a quarter of the population, while the share of Christians is expected to decrease from more than three-quarters to two-thirds.
The number of Buddhists will remain about the same, but because of overall global population growth, will comprise a smaller share of the world's population. Hindus will grow to reach 1.4 billion people. Worldwide, the number of Jews is expected to grow by about 16 percent to 16.1 million.