Spotlight on China
Expected Growth of China's Muslim Population
Muslims make up about 2% of the population in China, but because the country is so populous, its Muslim population is expected to be the 19th largest in the world in 2030. The Muslim population in China is projected to increase from 23.3 million in 2010 to nearly 30 million in 2030. Of all the countries in the world where Muslims live as religious minorities, only three others – India, Nigeria and Ethiopia – have more than 20 million Muslims. 1
The number of Muslims in China is expected to grow at a slower rate in the next 20 years than it did in the past two decades. From 1990 to 2010, the number of Muslims in China increased by 6.5 million, a 38.4% increase. The country is expected to add a similar number of Muslims from 2010 to 2030, but because the base number in 2010 is larger than it was in 1990, the projected percentage increase is smaller (28.5%).
The fertility rate for Muslims in China is higher than the fertility rate for non-Muslims. Muslim women in China have an average of 1.7 children, compared with a national average of 1.4 children.2 This is one reason the Muslim share of China’s total population is expected to increase slightly in the next 20 years, from 1.8% in 2010 to 2.1% in 2030. Muslims in China are somewhat less urbanized and less educated than the general population. These characteristics are often associated with higher fertility rates. At the time of the 2000 census, 31.2% of Chinese Muslims lived in urban areas, compared with 36.9% of the country’s population as a whole. In the same year, Muslims in China attended school an average of 6.8 years, compared with a national average of 7.6 years.
Muslims are not a new presence in China. Most of China’s Muslim communities, including the Hui, Uygurs and Kazakhs, have lived in China for more than 1,000 years. The largest concentrations of Muslims today are in the Western provinces of Xinjiang, Ningxia, Qinghai and Gansu. A substantial number of Muslims live in the cities of Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai.
1 As discussed elsewhere in this report, Nigeria will become a Muslim-majority country by 2030. (return to text)
2 There is some debate about the total fertility rate for China as a whole. The United Nations estimates that the rate is 1.8 children per woman. Others, however, including the Pew Forum’s demographic consultants in China, put the figure between 1.4 and 1.5 children per woman. The Pew Forum’s consultants also estimated that Muslim women in China have an average of 0.3 more children than the general population. For more information, see “Fertility Estimates for the Provinces of China, 1975-2000,” National Bureau of Statistics of China and the East-West Center, July 2007, and Baochang Gu and Yong Cai, “Fertility Prospects in China,” United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Recent and Future Trends in Fertility, Population Division, United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs, Nov. 17, 2009. (return to text)