Muslims are so outpacing Christians in births that the two population groups will be nearly equal by 2060, with Christians holding only a slight majority, according to newly released Pew Research data.
An increase in Muslim births compounded by an aging Christian population will put the Muslim share of the global population at 31 percent by 2060, just under the 32 percent for Christians, Pew said in its April 5 report.
Muslim births are nearly double the overall growth rate of the global population, Pew said, characterizing Islam as the youngest major religious group with the highest fertility. Atheists, agnostics and adults who don't specify a religion, together classified as "nones" by Pew, lag far behind both Muslims and Christians in reproduction.
"Between 2015 and 2060, the world's population is expected to increase by 32 percent, to 9.6 billion. Over that same period, the number of Muslims ... is projected to increase by 70 percent," Pew said in its press release on the findings. "The number of Christians is projected to rise by 34 percent, slightly faster than the global population overall yet far more slowly than Muslims."
The projections account for the fact that children sometimes change religious affiliations in adulthood, Pew said.
Well before 2060, between the years 2030 and 2035, Muslims will give birth to 225 million babies, a million more than the 224 million anticipated by Christians. The gap is expected to grow to 6 million in favor of Muslims by 2055 or 2060, Pew predicts, with 232 million births among Muslims and only 226 million among Christians.
The growing Muslim birth rate is compounded because Christians comprise a greater share of deaths globally, Pew said.
"Indeed, in recent years, Christians have had a disproportionately large share of the world's deaths (37%)—in large part because of the relatively advanced age of Christian populations in some places," Pew said. "This is especially true in Europe, where the number of deaths already is estimated to exceed the number of births among Christians."
While the relatively young Christian population of a region like sub-Saharan Africa is projected to grow in the decades ahead, the same cannot be said for Christian populations everywhere. In Germany alone, for example, there were an estimated 1.4 million more Christian deaths than births between 2010 and 2015, a pattern that is expected to continue across much of Europe in the decades ahead.
Comparatively, "nones" comprise only 16 percent of the population and are expected to decline significantly because of a low birth rate. Between 2010 and 2015, "nones" gave birth to only a tenth of the world's newborns, Pew said. By 2055 to 2060, the rate will decline to 9 percent.
Pew said the trend was discovered in its research for the 2015 study "The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050," that utilizes 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers. The latest demographic information builds on the 2015 study and is available at Pewforum.org.
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.