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Third Largest Religion is? No Religion

What is the third-largest religion in the world? The answer is no religion.

According to a study released yesterday by the Pew Forum, atheists, agnostics, and others with no religious affiliation or no belief in God now make up the third-largest “religious” group.

Of the world’s population, 80% identifies with a religious group. Christians make up the largest religion, accounting for 31.5% of the global population (2.2 billion people). Muslims rank second with 23.2% (1.6 billion people). After the group of unaffiliated or non-religious people (16.3% of the population; 1.1 billion people), comes Hindus (15% of the population; 1 billion people).

This finding came as a surprise to many people and this is one of the few studies that have revealed just how many “non-religious” people there are in the world.

The New York Times states that the study was based on an examination of 2,500 different data sources, from censuses to demographic surveys in 232 countries. Taking three years to compile, CNN quotes this Pew study as the “largest project of its kind to date.”

The study not only looked at the basic numbers of religions, but also many other factors, including age, location, poverty levels, education levels, and fertility rates.

In terms of age, Muslims and Hindus (23 and 26) are on average much younger than the global median age (28). For all other religious groups, the average age is older than the median 28. Christians’ average age is 30, the non-religious 24, Buddhists 34, and, with the oldest median age, Jews at 36 years old.

Reported by CNN, this may relate to fertility. The young ages of Muslims and Hindus are due to the high fertility rates.

Many may be surprised to hear that, with 700 million, China has the largest population of “nonbelievers” (followed by Japan with 72 million and the U.S. with 50 million).

Of all Christians, 26% live in Europe, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (at 24%), sub-Saharan Africa (24%), and North America (12%). The least amount of growth in Christianity occurs in the Middle East and North Africa.

Despite all of this new information, the biggest takeaway for most seems to be the fact that one in six people are non-religious. Does this surprise you? Do you think this is a sudden increase or a growth that’s been building over several decades?

To see more of the study, visit


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