Future of the Global Muslim Population

The long-awaited Pew report on The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for 2010-2030 was eventually published yesterday by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The Forum, based in Washington DC, is a non-partisan organization delivering timely and impartial information on issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs. It is an initiative of the Pew Research Center, financed by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

This report on Muslim population is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, jointly funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation.

The next documents in the series will be on the number of Christians (to be published later this year) and (in 2012) projections for the future growth of Christianity and other world faiths and of the religiously unaffiliated.

The study of Muslim populations covers 232 countries and territories (including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man), so it is obviously not going to be possible to summarize it succinctly here. Rather, we shall concentrate on the UK data.

Estimates (the medium of three scenarios) of the number of self-identifying Muslims are provided for 1990, 2000, 2010, 2020 and 2030.

Projected figures for each country derive from the application of the well-established cohort-component method to the best available data on fertility, mortality and migration rates, and on related factors such as education, economic well-being and birth control.

The principal sources of the UK information are stated in Appendix B as: ‘1990 estimate based on World Religion Database; 2000 estimate based on 2001 Census; 2010, 2020 and 2030 projections carried out by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis based on the 2001 Census’ (p. 202).

The Institute referred to is located in Laxenburg, Austria, and a number of scholars from it are listed in Appendix C as consultants in respect of the UK: Bilal Barakat, Anne Goujon, Samir KC, Vegard Skirbekk and Marcin Stonawski. Other advisers on the UK were Erik Kaufmann (England) and Erling Lundevaller (Sweden).

The overall size of the UK Muslim population is estimated at 1,172,000 in 1990 (equivalent to 2.0% of all citizens) and 1,590,000 in 2000 (2.7%). The former figure seems somewhat high but is not drastically out of line with other estimates (largely ethnically-derived), while the latter is from the 2001 census, the first in Britain to include a question on religious profession.

The Pew estimate for 2010 is 2,869,000 (4.6% of the UK population). This has been arrived at through the cohort-component method (p. 174). As BRIN noted when this figure was given a preliminary airing by Pew on 16 September last (http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=598), it seems a little inflated.

A subsequent BRIN calculation based on the Integrated Household Survey for 2009-10, which interviewed 442,000 individuals in Britain, suggested that there are roughly 2,520,000 Muslims at present (see http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=603).

For a more definitive answer, we shall obviously have to await the results from this year’s census, which will be taken on 27 March, and will again run a (voluntary) question about religious affiliation.

Clearly, if Pew’s 2010 figure is somewhat inflated, this will presumably have impacted on its projections for 2020 and 2030, which could be unduly high. They are, respectively, 4,231,000 (6.5% of the population) and 5,567,000 (8.2%).

The projected UK percentage for 2030 is lower than for France (10.3%), Belgium (10.2%), Sweden (9.9%), Austria (9.3%) and the Western European average (8.6%), but higher than in Switzerland (8.1%), The Netherlands (7.8%), Germany (7.1%), Italy (5.4%) and Spain (3.7%).  

The anticipated rise in the number of UK Muslims between 2010 and 2030 is thus 94%, compared with 145% between 1990 and 2010. Despite this lessening in the rate of growth, the projected UK increase for 2010-30 is still almost three times the global and European figures (35% and 32% respectively).

One of the factors behind the expansion in the Muslim community relative to the non-Muslim population is the higher fertility of the former (3.0 children per woman in the UK in 2005-10) than the latter (1.8).

Although Muslim fertility is declining, and the gap on non-Muslims is narrowing, it is still expected to be 0.8 children per woman in 2025-30 compared with 1.2 in 2005-10.

Greater fertility is linked to the younger age profile of Muslims, meaning that they are disproportionately already in or entering the prime reproductive years (ages 15-29).

Another reason for Muslim growth in the UK is net migration. The net inflow of Muslim immigrants in 2010 is estimated by Pew at 64,000, representing 28% of all immigrants to the UK in the year. There were 70,000 in Spain, 66,000 in France and 60,000 in Italy.

However, the five-year projected Muslim net migration into the UK is set to fall, according to Pew, from 312,000 in 2010-15 to 274,000 in 2025-30.  

No allowance seems to have been made for conversions to Islam, about which we made a post recently (http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=813). Pew’s working hypothesis is that ‘future conversions into Islam will roughly equal conversions away from Islam’ (p. 166).

Needless to say, projections such as these could be overturned in the event of unanticipated changes in national or global social, economic or political conditions. Therefore, they should be treated with some discretion.

The 221-page report is available in both hypertext and PDF formats, alongside an interactive map and sortable data tables, thereby providing a truly flexible online resource. All these components can be accessed by following the links at the executive summary page:


To view the report alone as a PDF file, go to:


Pew’s research will inevitably fuel the debates about immigration and Islamophobia in the UK. Early off the starting-block is the article in today’s Daily Mail which claims that by 2030 ‘Britain would have more Muslims than Kuwait and close to the number found in America, even though five times as many people live there’. See:


British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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