There are about 488 million Buddhists worldwide, representing 7% of the world’s total
population as of 2010. The three major branches of Buddhism in the modern world are
Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism and Vajrayana (sometimes described as Tibetan)
Buddhism.12 While affiliation with particular branches of Buddhism is not measured in most
censuses and surveys, Mahayana Buddhism is widely believed to be the largest, because it is
prevalent in several countries with very large Buddhist populations, particularly China, Japan,
South Korea and Vietnam. Theravada Buddhism, the second-largest branch, is concentrated
in such countries as Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka, Laos and Cambodia. Vajrayana Buddhism, the smallest of the three major branches, is concentrated in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan
and Mongolia. The Buddhist population figures in this study also include members of other
groups that identify as Buddhist, such as Soka Gakkai and Hoa Hao.
Buddhism began in Asia, and the vast majority of all Buddhists (nearly 99%) still live in the Asia-
Pacific region. Only two other regions – North America (3.9 million) and Europe (1.3 million) –
have more than 1 million Buddhists.
Although the majority of Buddhists live in Asia and the Pacific, only about one-in-eight people
(12%) in that region are Buddhists. About 1% of North Americans are Buddhists. In each of the
other four regions, Buddhists make up less than 1% of the population.
All 10 countries with the largest Buddhist populations are in the Asia-Pacific region, and these
countries collectively are home to the lion’s share (95%) of all Buddhists. Half (50%) of the
world’s Buddhists live in one country, China. The largest Buddhist populations outside China
are in Thailand (13%), Japan (9%), Burma (Myanmar) (8%), Sri Lanka (3%), Vietnam (3%),
Cambodia (3%), South Korea (2%), India (2%) and Malaysia (1%).
Seven countries have Buddhist majorities: Cambodia, Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), Bhutan,
Sri Lanka, Laos and Mongolia.
Globally, Buddhists are older
(median age of 34) than the
overall population (median
age of 28). Of the three
regions for which data are
available, sub-Saharan Africa
has the youngest Buddhist
population (median age of 29),
followed by North America
(33). The Asia-Pacific region
has the oldest Buddhist
population, with a median age
Buddhists are older than the
general population in two
of the three major regions
for which data are available:
sub-Saharan Africa (where
Buddhists have a median age of 29 and the general population has a median age of 18) and Asia
and the Pacific (34 vs. 29). In North America, the median age of Buddhists is 33, four years
younger than the general population (37).
12 Alternatively, some scholars consider there to be two main Buddhist branches – Mahayana and Theravada – and classify Vajrayana as part of the
Mahayana branch. Other schools within the Mahayana tradition include Zen, Nichiren and Pure Land. See, for example, Williams, Paul. 2008. “Mahayana
Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations.” Routledge. (return to text)