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Catholic Church Growth Outpaces General Population, Lags Behind Islam


The Vatican has released global statistics this week showing that the number of Catholics has grown faster in the last decade than the general population, though more slowly than Islam.

Over the past nine years, the number of Catholics worldwide has increased by a half percent more than the general population, or a difference of 17.8 percent versus 17.3 percent, according to the newly released Pontifical Yearbook 2016 and the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2014, compiled by the Central Office of Church Statistics.


Between 2009 and 2014, the number of Catholics worldwide increased by nearly 160 million, reaching 1.27 billion in 2014, up from 1.12 billion in 2005.

Islam, on the other hand, will overtake Christianity as the largest religion in the world before the end of the century if present trends continue.

According to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, and Pew projects that by mid-century, the Muslim population will have increased by 73 percent and make up 30 percent of the world’s population, totaling 2.8 billion.

In 2010, Christians significantly outnumbered Muslims, with the former totaling 2.17 billion worldwide and Muslims at 1.6 billion. Data suggest that this relationship will reverse itself in coming years, with Islam reaching numeric parity with Christianity around 2050.

Islam’s global growth stems from two simple demographic factors: age and birthrate. Muslims are the youngest of all major religions in the world, with a median age of only 23, compared to the combined median age of 30 for all other world religions. This means that more Muslims are currently, or soon will be, at the age of childbearing compared with significantly more non-Muslims who have passed this period of their lives.

Second, the birthrate among Muslims is significantly higher than that among non-Muslims. Whereas non-Muslim women have a combined average of 2.3 children, Muslim women have 35 percent more children on average, or 3.1 children each.

Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the United States, and by the year 2050, the number of Muslims is projected to more than double, surpassing Judaism as the country’s second-largest religious group after Christianity. Those identifying with Islam are projected to comprise 2.1 percent of the U.S. population.

Catholic Church growth has varied widely from continent to continent, with most increase registered in Africa, said the report.

In Africa, the number of the Catholics baptized grew by a remarkable 40 percent amid an overall population growth of only 23.8 percent in the same period.

In Asia, the Church grew by half that amount, or 20 percent, and in the Americas — where a full half of the world’s Catholics live — recorded an increase of only 11 percent.

Europe saw the slowest growth of all, with the number of Catholics increasing by only 2 percent in the nine years between 2009 and 2014.

Much attention has been given recently to the increase of the religiously unaffiliated — “nones” — in the United States and elsewhere.

Although this trend is expected to continue, atheists, agnostics, and other people who do not affiliate with any religion will make up a decreasing share of the world’s total population. This is due in part to the low fertility rate of the unaffiliated, which at just 1.7 children per woman, is well below replacement level.

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