Religious Adherents Globally on the Rise


Religious Adherents Globally on the Rise

12 Aug 2014

The number of people identifying as religious is on the rise, whilst many of those who don't follow a religion still hold some spiritual beliefs or engage in religious practices, says the 2014 Yearbook of International Religious Demography.

The Yearbook of International Religious Demography published by Brill provides an annual examination of the numbers surrounding contemporary religious belief and practice around the world, drawing out key findings and looking at implications surrounding important trends in international religious demography.

People holding religious beliefs account for 88.4% of the world's population.

Whilst global religious belief and practice is sometimes presumed to be in decline, this report shows that adherents to all the world's major religious groups are rising, both in number and as a percentage of the global population. The Yearbook found that in 2013, people holding religious beliefs accounted for 88.4% of the world's population, a figure that stood at about 80% in 1970. This number is projected to rise to over 90% by 2030.

Of particular interest are the trends in religious diversity drawn out by the report, as increasing migration means that each of the 6 continents is becoming more religiously diverse. Increasing sectarianism can be tied to these demographic shifts, as religious groups find themselves thrown together in ever more pluralistic societies.

For more information on the report's findings, see the Weekly Number blog, written by one of the Yearbook's editors, Brian Grim.   

Key Findings
  • In 2013, Asia had 5 times as many atheists and agnostics as Europe.  
  • Muslims are expected to grow twice as fast from 2013 to 2030 in Africa as they are in Europe.
  • The second largest religion in Latin America is Spiritism.
  • Christians in Europe are relatively old, with a median age of 41.7 years; among 25–44 year olds, 72% are Christian, compared to 84% of the 65+ population. Muslim age-relation in Europe goes the other way since most Muslims are fairly recent migrants.
  • In 2013, in Buddhist-majority Thailand there were 4,977 churches and 391,138 Christians.
  • The largest non-religious population in the world is in China, and North Korea is the most non-religious country by percentage.
Case Studies

Studies of population changes are central to religious demography. The Yearbook includes a number of case studies focusing on the correlation between religion and childbearing behaviour:

Nigeria: Protestantism and Catholicism are reported as likely independent predictors of fertility rates in Nigeria, with women from those traditions reporting lower rates of children ever born. Muslim women were more likely to report high fertility, early marriage and childbirth, and non-use of any modern contraceptives.

Mongolia: Both Buddhist and non-religious women experienced fertility decline in the early 1990s and 2000s; however, in the mid-2000s Buddhist women reached a lower level of fertility than those from non-religious households and have fewer children.


The Yearbook of International Religious Demography brings together data from a number of censuses, surveys, polls, and religious communities, information which is then collated and analysed by research centres and scholars around the world. By drawing out key findings and looking at implications surrounding important trends in international religious demography, the Yearbook aims to provide a snapshot of the contemporary religious landscape of belief and practice around the world.

This article summarises an external report, and is not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. 


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