August 27, 2014

Many religions heavily concentrated in one or two countries

Where at least half the followers of the world's religions live

Earlier this summer, on World Population Day, we explained that half of the world’s population lives in just six countries. In many cases, the world’s major religious groups are even more concentrated, with half or more of their followers living in one or a handful of countries. For several years, demographers at the Pew Research Center have been studying the demographic characteristics of eight groups: Buddhists, Christians, adherents of folk religions, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, the religiously unaffiliated and followers of other religions.

While Christians and Muslims are more widely distributed around the world, the other groups have a majority of their populations in just one or two nations, according to 2010 estimates from our Global Religious Landscape report.

The Unaffiliated

China is home to 62% of people unaffiliated with any religion

While there continues to be much attention paid to the growth of the religiously unaffiliated population in Europe and North America, more than half (62%) of the world’s 1.1 billion unaffiliated people live in one Asian country: China. China also is home to 50% of the world’s 488 million Buddhists and 73% of the 405 million global adherents of folk religions. Since China is the world’s most populous nation, it may not be altogether unexpected that it has a lot of people in a variety of categories. While China accounts for 19% of the world’s overall population, it is home to majorities of all Buddhists, unaffiliated people and adherents of folk religions.

Hindus

India is home to 94% of all Hindus

No major religion is more concentrated in one country than Hinduism, which has remained close to its geographic origins. More than nine-in-ten (94%) of the world’s 1 billion Hindus live in India, which is home to 18% of the world’s overall population.

Other Religions

Two countries are home to 63% of adherents of other religions the Baha’i faith, Taoism, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Tenrikyo, Wicca, Zoroastrianism and many others.

India and China have the largest shares (a combined 63%) of the 58 million people in the “other religions” category, which includes the Baha’i faith, Taoism, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Tenrikyo, Wicca, Zoroastrianism and many others. India and China also are the world’s two biggest countries in terms of population, together home to 37% of all people.

Christians and Muslims, the world’s two largest religious groups, have spread well beyond their origins in the Middle East.

Muslims

Six countries are home to 53% of the world's Muslims

While Islam is still associated with the Middle East and North Africa in the minds of many Americans, only 20% of the world’s Muslims live in the region. Egypt is the only Middle Eastern-North African country that ranks among the six largest Muslim populations (Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Egypt). Those nations together account for 53% of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. Egypt is also the only country in the group where Arabic is an official language. While these six countries have a majority of all Muslims, they comprise only 30% of the world’s population.

Christians

 

11 countries are home to 50% of all Christians

Christians are the group whose distribution is most closely proportionate to the global population pattern. It takes at least 11 countries to total half of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians (United States, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, the Philippines, Nigeria, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Germany, Ethiopia and Italy). These 11 countries make up 38% of the world’s overall population.

Jews

 

Two countries are home to 81% of all Jews

By contrast, the concentration of Jews – a group that has often migrated because of hostile conditions, including the Holocaust, throughout its history – varies most greatly from the world’s population. The United States and Israel each are home to about 40% of the world’s 14 million Jews. While 81% of all Jews live in these two countries, together they have only 5% of the world’s people.

Topics: Buddhists and Buddhism, Christians and Christianity, Hindus and Hinduism, Jews and Judaism, Religion and Society, Religious Beliefs and Practices, Religiously Unaffiliated

  1. Photo of Conrad Hackett

    is a Demographer at the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

  2. is an Intern in Advanced Analytics at the Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project.

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27 Comments

  1. M Abdullah2 weeks ago

    How exactly did Pew Rearch calculate the number of Muslims in China?
    This is particularly questionable issue given that the Chinese Communist party and its government do not record or identify religious identities in China. The government records continue to claim the Muslim population in China has remained around 20 million since the late 1930s when the last census was made that collected religious data.

    According to Chinese Muslims, the total population of Muslims in China is between 100 and 200 million. The vast majority of who are of Han ethnicity but the government does not want to acknowledge as such.

    Reply
  2. Tom Anderson2 months ago

    If the maps were drawn with country sizes based on population, rather than land area, I think it would make the results much more intuitive. It would also be very interesting to see the size of each country proportional to the GDP of the country…

    Reply
  3. Linda2 months ago

    God Bless The Jews and Have Mercy on America

    Reply
  4. E. Benoît Lomonyo2 months ago

    Scientists have to keep their regard on this to shape the world!

    Reply
  5. E2 months ago

    What about atheists, agnostics and skeptics?

    Reply
  6. Rev. Doyce Ford2 months ago

    A misnomer in writing a summary of a condensed research article on religion can cause major misunderstandings on the conclusions concerning Jews in an otherwise excellent brief distribution of religions around the world. My calculations show the United States and Israel together comprise approximately 5% of the worlds population. I also assumed a world population of approximately 6 Billion and divided it into 14 Million Jews worldwide and arrived at a figure of .0023 which is .23 % of the worlds population.

    There are two major Jewish ethnic groups, the Sephardi and Ashkenazim. The Sephardi is the Mediterranean and the Ashkenazim the European Jew. The Sephardi was the earliest Jew to set foot in the United States during colonial times with synagogues in Rhode Island and New York City which are still active today. The Ashkenazim begin immigrating to the U.S. from Europe, especially Russia, in late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
    The majority of Jews in the U.S. and present day Israel are Ashkenazim. All immigrants from Europe to what is now Israel originally under the banner of Zionism.

    Reply
    1. Rev. Doyce+Ford2 months ago

      Should have stated your calculations

      Reply
  7. Dilip Kumar2 months ago

    It is very informative and useful.

    Reply
  8. Brian Mellor2 months ago

    Canada is missing from your study again.

    There is always a huge gap between the U.S. northern border and Alaska on your maps.

    Reply
  9. Mary2 months ago

    Confusingly put…so if the U.S. is 5% of the total global population, the 14 million Jews are still 0.2% of global population (not the 5%, right?)… And I know the number of Muslims in France, Morocco, Tunisia, and Russia are huge, and a large percentage… Grouping the 3 Christian religions was confusing (Orthodox, R.Catholic, and Protestant) I got nothing out of this, which made me sad… It was like apples, oranges and cucumbers… Went to Wikipedia to sort it out (and Pew was the one who put the figures in, there, and I thank you).

    Reply
    1. José Carlos2 months ago

      If you split Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant (and “other Christian”, I assume), you would have to split Sunni, Shia and “other Muslim”, Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists, etc. Which you could, of course. It was just not the author’s choice to split at that level of detail.

      Reply
  10. Jerry Zerg2 months ago

    If Jews represent 5% of the world’s population and if the Jewish population is 14,000,000. then the worlds’ population would be 280,000,000. It is my understanding that the world’s population is between 6 or 7 billion. Please let me know how you calculated the percentage of the Jewish population?

    Thank you for prompt attention,
    Jerry Zerg

    Reply
    1. Michael2 months ago

      I think what the chart is saying is that the total populations of the United States and Israel combined make up 5% of the world’s population.

      Reply
    2. Tristan2 months ago

      I think you’ve read it wrong Jerry – the point is that the total population of the USA plus that of Israel is equal to roughly 5% of the total world’s population.

      Reply
    3. Vital2 months ago

      He was referring to the nations of USA and Israel, whose combined populations make up 5% of the world

      Reply
    4. patrice2 months ago

      I believe the 5% statement might be restated as “While 81% of all Jews live in the United States and Israel, these two countries contain only 5% of the world population.”

      Reply
    5. Shahhe2 months ago

      The report did not say that the Jews make up 5% of the world’s population, but rather that the total population of the respective countries (The United States, mostly) make up around 5% of the world’s population.
      The same thing with it saying China and India are home to 37% of the world’s people when describing that it is home to the majority of other* religions.

      *See above.

      Reply
  11. Rick2 months ago

    Are all ethnic Jewish considered as religious Jews in these data?

    Reply
  12. nakul gote2 months ago

    Is Hinduism a religion?

    Reply
    1. Thomas R2 months ago

      It’s possible “Hinduism” is something of a blanket term for a variety of dharmic religions and movements of India rather than a single religion in itself. Still it’s fairly standard to call it a religion.

      The “Other religions” segment seems potentially strange though as it includes religions with very little, historical or otherwise, in common. For example Baha’i and Shintoism have very different origins and histories. Baha’i started in Iran and is a universalizing monotheistic religion. Shinto is a kind-of animist religion strongly associated to the Japanese people. (There are non-Japanese Shinto, but I think it’s relatively rare)

      Reply
      1. José Carlos2 months ago

        The “others” may have nothing in common, but it’s common practice to group the options with the lowest numbers together. The strange thing is that 14 million Jews have an own category, while 25 million Sikhs don’t.

        Reply
    2. Felix Mulama2 months ago

      Yes Thomas, Hinduism is the major religion in India with over 80% of the population practicing Hinduism.

      Reply
  13. khawaja atteeq2 months ago

    is there a reason behind showing israel to small to the world?

    Reply
    1. yosh2 months ago

      it’s accurate for it’s geographical size, they could use a map that shows sizes base on military strength, but then it would just be US, Israel, UK, and Russia, so they went with the geographical one.

      Reply
      1. Jeff2 months ago

        Yosh, you are joking, right? A more realistic list is: U.S., Russia, China, India. Israel is not even in the top 10 on any respectable list.

        Reply
      2. skeptic much2 months ago

        Right! Nuclear powers like China, India, Pakistan, with much larger armed forces, all of whom would win a land war with the UK or Israel won’t be on that imaginary list of yours eh?

        try and keep up, the 1940s are long gone!

        Reply
      3. Gary2 months ago

        lol!

        where did you get that imaginary list.

        The CIA produced a report (you can look it up online) called global governance which listed US, China & India are the world’s 3 most powerful nation states in that order.

        Reply