April 14, 2015

Muslims expected to surpass Jews as second-largest U.S. religious group

Two trends that are already well underway – the decline of Christians and the growth of religiously unaffiliated people as a share of the U.S. population – are expected to continue in the decades ahead, according to the Pew Research Center’s projections of major religious groups around the world.

But, if current demographic trends hold, there also will be other significant changes in the U.S. religious landscape: Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion in the country and, by 2050, Muslims are projected to be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.

Due in part to their continued migration into the country, Muslims are forecast to make up 2.1% of the U.S. population in 2050, up from 0.9% in 2010. Two other major factors are driving Muslim growth: They currently have the highest fertility rate and the youngest median age of any major religious group in the U.S.

People who identify their religion as Jewish in surveys are projected to decline from an estimated 1.8% of the U.S. population in 2010 to 1.4% in 2050. The median age of U.S. Jews as of 2010 (41) was 17 years older than the median age for Muslims (24), while Jews, on average, have 1.9 children per woman compared with 2.8 for U.S. Muslims.

A 2013 Pew Research survey found that more than one-in-five U.S. Jewish adults (22%) say they are atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, but still consider themselves Jewish. For the purposes of the projections, these “cultural” or “ethnic” Jews are categorized as unaffiliated and not included in the Jewish population. If the projected Jewish numbers were expanded to include cultural or ethnic Jews, it is possible that the Jews (more broadly defined) might still outnumber Muslims in 2050.

In any case, Muslims are not the only American religious minority that is growing. Hindus, who make up another relatively young group that continues to be boosted by migration, are projected to double as a share of the U.S. population, from 0.6% in 2010 to 1.2% in 2050. Similar factors account for the modest expected rise in the share of Buddhists (from 1.2% to 1.4%).

Two other relatively small groups also are expected to grow. Members of “other religions” (a category for all those not categorized elsewhere in the projections, including Sikhs, Wiccans and Unitarian Universalists) are projected to increase from 0.6% of the U.S. population in 2010 to 1.5% in 2050, while adherents of folk religions are forecast to increase from 0.2% to 0.5%. Religious switching into these categories, observed in recent surveys, accounts for some of the increases.

Altogether, minority religious groups – that is, everyone other than Christians and the unaffiliated – are expected to grow from roughly 5% of Americans in 2010 to about 8% in 2050.

Topics: Christians and Christianity, Jews and Judaism, Muslims and Islam, North America, Population Projections, Religious Affiliation

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

15 Comments

  1. Johny Doo7 months ago

    this should be a wakeup call to all who support America and Israel’s leadership in the world to end Islamic immigration.

    1. Anonymous4 months ago

      Why is that?

  2. Steven Cotten1 year ago

    Interesting

  3. howard newman1 year ago

    Michael, is there a way to be notified when a new comment is added to this discussion?

    Thanks, Howard

  4. booinboston1 year ago

    You may want to correct the misleading headline over the story. It should read:
    “Muslims expected to surpass Jews as second-largest **NON-CHRISTIAN**U.S. religious group

    1. Saty131 year ago

      The headline is accurate as is.

  5. howard hancock newman1 year ago

    Dear Michael,

    Thanks for your research. However, you are using a definition of religion based on the predominant Christian American culture – that it is belief which defines religiosity. I live in a predominantly non-Jewish community, and with some frequency am in discussions concerning generalizations about ‘Judeo-Christian’ or Abrahamic religions. I respond by making the point that Christianity and Judaism are mirror-opposites: Christianity is based on a belief, and grounds it’s rituals on that belief; Judaism is based on questioning belief in all its knowable forms, and grounds its rituals in readdressing those age old questions. For Jews, belief is non-definable and personal. An article in Reform Judaism Magazine (reformjudaism.org/god-survey) points out some of the variety of Jewish attitudes about the G-d idea.

    I suggest that you rebuild your survey based on defining each religion as a majority of those claiming affiliation with that religion describe it rather than this incorrect, culture-bound assumption.

    Again, thanks for your good work. In a very Jewish sense, we would not be having this discussion without it.

    Sincerely,

    Howard Newman, President, The Newport Havurah
    Newport, Rhode Island

    These are my personal views and do not represent the views of the Newport Havurah.

    1. Michael Lipka1 year ago

      Howard:

      Thanks for your comment. In all of our research, people are categorized into religious groups based on self-identification with those groups (not by any specific beliefs or practices).

      We understand that measuring the Jewish population poses a unique challenge, especially in the sense that being Jewish can be a matter of ancestry/ethnicity in addition to a matter of religion. Our 2013 report “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” attempted to capture this complexity. You can read that report here: pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-a…

      Thanks again for your interest in our research.
      Michael Lipka

      1. howard hancock newman1 year ago

        Dear Michael,
        Thanks for posting my comment and for your kind response, which reinforces my observation.

        In the report you say,
        ‘one-in-five U.S. Jewish adults (22%) say they are atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, but still consider themselves Jewish. For the purposes of the projections, these “cultural” or “ethnic” Jews are categorized as unaffiliated and not included in the Jewish population.’

        In other words, our predominant Christian cultural definition of religion influenced you to judge Jews who, despite considering themselves as Jews, as not being Jews. Also, putting quotes around “ethnic,” and “cultural,” reinforces the predominant culture’s bias toward belief as the central element of religious identity.

        To give Jews, as we define ourselves, the correct emphasis in your report, you would have to reverse your emphases and give primacy to our self definition as defined in the Pew 2013 report, and put quotes, instead, around the word “belief.” This would, of course, completely change the subject and substance of your report.

        The significance of affiliation is also influenced by Christian cultural bias; in your analysis you only define Jews relating to affiliation. For Christians or Muslims, as long as one “believes,” he or she is in your group. To equitably use affiliation as a metric, you need to quantify how many of these groups’ members are “affiliated,” that is, formally associated with organizations purporting to represent and validate their membership. It’s my guess that such a further definition will, again, produce a significant variation in your statistics.

        Furthermore, Islam Christianity and Judaism place different emphases on the importance and meaning of affiliation. Since Judaism places great emphasis on home practice, whether a Jew decides to augment his or her Judaism by affiliating with a formal communal organization is irrelevant to his or her being a Jew.

        Again, thanks for the dialogue.

        Shabbat Shalom,

        Howard

  6. Mutakallim1 year ago

    So what? Were the Jews not the majority in the Madina between their migration and 628 A.D?

  7. Douglas Kelly1 year ago

    I would be interested in the definition of “Folk Religions’. And it would clarify the use of your research. It’s a small percentage but a curious one.

    1. Michael Lipka1 year ago

      Douglas:

      Thanks for your interest in our research. The definitions of the religious groups as categorized in the report can be seen here (PDF): pewforum.org/files/2015/04/PF_15…

      Also, a deeper look at projections for adherents of folk religions around the world can be seen here: pewforum.org/2015/04/02/adherent…

      I hope this helps.
      Michael Lipka

  8. Bill Monza1 year ago

    Michael,
    I’m curious why you did not determine how many Muslims consider themselves atheists, agnostics, or something other than Muslim as you did for Jews. Wouldn’t that statistic be relevant as well?
    Sincerely,
    Bill

    1. Michael Lipka1 year ago

      Bill:
      Thanks for your interest in our research. Judaism is unique in that being Jewish is seen as a matter of ethnicity/ancestry and culture as well as a religion. For more on this distinction, see our 2013 survey of U.S. Jews (including this sidebar: pewforum.org/2013/10/01/sidebar-…).

      Our research has found that an overwhelming majority of U.S. Muslims (96%) believe in God: people-press.org/2011/08/30/sect…

      Michael Lipka

  9. Papa Foote1 year ago

    I find “this” of interest – as more humanity continues to live in our Earth Planet!