Christianity is still the top religion worldwide, but changes in belief are expected to shift the global religious landscape.
New global findings published in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, a peer-reviewed academic journal, suggest the worldwide pattern of religious affiliation at a person’s time of death is on track to noticeably change by 2060. Researchers suggest such changes could affect global trends in end-of-life health care and burial practices.
“Religious affiliation affects which end-of-life practices are preferred, whether specific life-extending procedures are acceptable, and whether specific post-mortem practices, such as cremation, will be carried out,” said lead author Vegard Skirbekk, in a statement.[READ: The 10 Most Religious Countries in the World]
Skirbekk and a team of researchers from the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health analyzed data from more than 2,500 surveys, registries and censuses across 198 nations to project beliefs and the number of deaths by age, sex and religion between the years 2010 and 2060. Their projections covered eight major religious groups: Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, folk religions, other religions and the unaffiliated.
The study found that people still most commonly identify as Christian at their time of death, but that Christianity’s share of global deaths is expected to fall from 37 percent in 2010 to 31 percent by 2060. The share of people who will die in 2060 who identify as Muslim will in turn increase from 21 percent to 25 percent during that time. The percent of religiously unaffiliated worldwide is projected to peak at 17 percent in 2035 followed by a slight decline.
Regionally, researchers note that Muslims are expected to become the most common religious group in Nigeria, while in South Korea, the share of people who identify as Christian will be larger than the share who say they are Buddhist. Europe is expected to grow increasingly secularized. Researchers projected that the religiously unaffiliated in the region will increase from 14 percent to 21 percent of deaths.[MORE: The 10 Least Religious Countries]
North America is also expected to see an increase among people who don’t identify with a particular religion. The study found that the religiously unaffiliated will double from now until 2060 to account for 20 percent of all deaths.
North Americans who identify as Muslim are projected to increase from 0.4 percent to 1.6 percent by 2060, and the study suggests that the share of Christians will fall at the time of death, moving from 85 percent between 2010 and 2015 to just 74 percent between 2055 and 2060.