April 2, 2015

The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050

North America

Christians are projected to remain the largest religious group in North America in the decades ahead, and their numbers are expected to increase from 267 million as of 2010 to 287 million in 2050.66 But North America’s Christian population is forecast to grow at a much slower rate (8%) than most other religious groups in the region, leading to a decline in the share of North America’s total population that is Christian.

The religiously unaffiliated population is expected to nearly double in size, growing from 59 million in 2010 to 111 million in 2050. The number of Muslims is expected to nearly triple, from more than 3 million as of 2010 to more than 10 million in 2050, making Muslims the third-largest religious group in the region by mid-century.

Size, Projected Growth of Major Religious Groups in North America, 2010-2050

North America’s Hindu and Buddhist populations are expected to reach around 6 million each by 2050, although the rate of increase is projected to be much greater for Hindus (160%) than for Buddhists (58%). Increases of more than 100% also are forecast for the number of people who practice folk religions or identify with other religions (such as members of the Baha’i faith, Jains and Sikhs).

The size of the Jewish population in North America is projected to decrease slightly between 2010 and 2050; this is because Jews in the region were relatively old and had low fertility rates compared with other religious groups as of 2010. Some religious switching out of Judaism also is expected.67 By mid-century, North America’s Muslim population is expected to be larger than its Jewish population (10 million Muslims vs. about 6 million Jews).

While the absolute number of Christians in North America is projected to rise in the decades ahead, the Christian share of the region’s population is expected to decrease from 77% in 2010 to 66% in 2050. That decline correlates in large part with an increase in the unaffiliated share of North America’s population, from 17% in 2010 to 26% in 2050.

Factors Driving Change

Fertility

Total Fertility Rates of Religious Groups in North America, 2010-2015The Total Fertility Rate of Muslims in North America is 2.7 children per woman in the 2010 to 2015 period, well above the regional average (2.0) and the replacement level (2.1). The fertility rate for Christians (2.1) is on par with replacement level. Other religious groups in the region have fertility rates below replacement level, including Jews (2.0) and the religiously unaffiliated (1.6).

Age Structure

Age Breakdown of Religious Groups in North America, 2010Many of the groups projected to experience rapid growth in North America had relatively young populations in 2010. The median ages of Muslims (26), Buddhists (30), Hindus (30) and the religiously unaffiliated (30) were all younger than the regional median age (37) as well as the median ages of Christians (39) and Jews (41) in North America.

Religious Switching

Projected Religious Composition of North America in 2050, With and Without Religious SwitchingThe religiously unaffiliated population in North America is expected to grow primarily because of high levels of religious switching.68 (For information on the impact of religious switching on the demographic projections in this report, see Chapter 1.) Without religious switching, the unaffiliated share of the population in 2050 would be expected to remain about the same as it was in 2010 (17%). Taking into account projected patterns of religious switching, however, the unaffiliated share of the population is expected to increase to 26% by mid-century.

Religious switching also is expected to result in an increase in the proportion of North Americans in the “other religions” category, which includes such groups as Unitarian Universalists and Wiccans.69

If no religious switching were projected, the Christian share of the population in 2050 (75%) would be close to the 2010 share (77%). Because of expected switching, however, the Christian share of North America’s population is projected to be significantly smaller (66%).

Projected religious switching also lowers the expected Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish shares of the region’s 2050 population.

Migration

Projected Religious Composition North America In 2050, With and Without MigrationMigration also is expected to alter the religious landscape of North America in future decades. (For information on the impact of migration on the demographic projections in this report, see Chapter 1.) Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists all are expected to increase as a share of North America’s population because of immigration, primarily from countries in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East and North Africa. By contrast, the Jewish and religiously unaffiliated populations are projected to be slightly smaller in size in the decades ahead than they would be if migration were not taken into account. Migration is not expected to substantially change the share of the region’s population that is Christian.70

  1. North America includes Bermuda, Canada, Greenland, the Saint Pierre and Miquelon Islands and the United States. (For the purposes of this report, Mexico is considered part of the Latin America-Caribbean region.) To see the estimated size of religious groups in specific countries in 2010 and 2050, see Appendix C or online sortable tables.
  2. Estimating the size of the Jewish population is complicated and depends heavily on the definition of who is a Jew, as explained in the October 2013 Pew Research Center report “A Portrait of Jewish Americans.” http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american- beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/. The estimates for the size of the Jewish population in this report are for those whose religion is Jewish. The estimates do not include “Jews of no religion” – that is, those who say they have no religion but who were raised Jewish or have a Jewish parent and who still consider themselves at least partially Jewish aside from religion. “Jews of no religion” are included in the religiously unaffiliated category in this report.
  3. In North America, religious switching is modeled only for the United States because of the lack of available data on religious switching patterns in Canada, Bermuda, Greenland and the Saint Pierre and Miquelon Islands. For more information on the growing number of people in the United States who are religiously unaffiliated, see the Pew Research Center’s October 2012 report “ ‘Nones’ on the Rise.” http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/.
  4. For a more detailed explanation of the “other religions” category, see Chapter 2.
  5. See the Pew Research Center’s 2013 report “The Religious Affiliation of U.S. Immigrants: Majority Christian, Rising Share of Other Faiths.” http://www.pewforum.org/2013/05/17/the-religious-affiliation-of-us-immigrants/.