A new study reflects a historic population shift that has been years in the making and indicates that Christianity’s future lies less in America or Europe and more in sub-Saharan Africa.
By 2060, a plurality of the world’s Christians – more than 40 percent – will call sub-Saharan Africa home, up from 26 percent in 2015, according to the new analysis of demographic data by Pew.
At the same time, the share of Christians living in many other regions – notably Europe – is projected to further decline, even as the Muslim population there continues to rise.
“This shift in the regional concentration of the global Christian population is being driven by a combination of demographic factors, including fertility, age and migration, as well as religious switching into and out of Christianity,” reports the study’s author, David McClendon. “In sub-Saharan Africa, Christians, on average, are relatively young and have more children than their coreligionists elsewhere, contributing to the projected rapid population growth in the decades ahead.”
By contrast, European Christians are much older and have fewer children. In addition, large numbers of Europeans who were born Christian are leaving the faith to join the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated. As a result, the share of all Christians living in Europe is expected to decline from nearly a quarter in 2015 to just 14 percent by 2060. Conversions from Christianity are also projected to drive down the share of the global Christian population in North America (12 percent in 2015 to 9 percent in 2060).
The new data seems to add credibility to some of the rather bold predictions made lately by prominent Europeans who have been sounding the alarm.
The fertility rate for Western European women ranges from a dismal 1.5 to 1.7 children per woman, depending on the country. That’s less than the replacement rate while Muslim women are having four to eight children per family.
Sub-Saharan Africa, however, cannot be seen as a future refuge for Christians, because Muslims there are also flourishing.
Between 2015 and 2060, the share of all Muslims living in the region is projected to increase from 16 percent to 27 percent, according to Pew.
One of them, Monsignor Carlo Liberati, the archbishop of Pompeii, Italy, recently told the Catholic journal LaFede Quotidiana that Europe “will be Muslim within 10 years, because of our stupidity. We have a weak Christian faith. All of this moral and religious decadence favors Islam. In addition to this, they have children and we do not.”
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Although the majority of Muslims will continue to live in the Asia-Pacific region (50 percent of the global Muslim population in 2060), sub-Saharan Africa will surpass the Middle East-North Africa as the region with the second-largest Muslim population in the next 20 years.
As with Christianity, Muslim growth in sub-Saharan Africa primarily is driven by high fertility and the relatively young age profile of the population in the region.
“Religious switching” is expected to play a minor role in future Muslim population trends around the world, according to Pew. In fact, in many Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa, apostasy laws remain on the books, helping to make changes in religious identity rare.
The penalty for converting from Islam to any other religion is death.