WORLD’S ageing population is starting to impact on religious trends, and on community social and economic decisions.
WORLD’S ageing population is starting to impact on religious trends, and on community social and economic decisions.

Changing age of worshipers will shape global issues

BY 2050 Buddhists and the religiously unaffiliated will tie for the largest portion of the world's population, while Muslims will stay the youngest group, researchers have found. 

The age of world's population is rapidly changing and the number of older adults becoming religiously unaffiliated is increasing.

These changes are expected to impact on conflict, public and religious spending, religious practices and lifestyle choices.

The study of religious affiliation among older age groups worldwide by Columbia University's Aging Centre is the first of its kind to look at aging, mortality and fertility rates between religious groups and at religious conversion and secularisation trends.

As the UN's Development Programme reports, "…people are living longer…", with the size of the world's population of people aged 60 and over increasing from 11% in 2010 to a projected 22% by 2050, the religious landscape is expected to also change.

"Our first finding is that every religious group is experiencing substantive population aging," the report states.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the report projects a decline in the unaffiliated population from 858 million in 2010 to 838 million in 2050, due to the region's; "advanced age structure, low fertility, and absence of discernible increase through switching".

The researchers also project that by 2050 the religion affiliation mix of those aged 60 to 79 will be; Christians 6.9%, Muslims 24.8%, Buddhists 11.7%, Hindus 23.6%, Jews 0%, Folk religionists 9.5%, other religions 1.3% and unaffiliated 22.3%.

The study, published in December 2015, listed the following key research outcomes:

• Age variation in religious distributions can affect the risk of conflict and the degree of cooperation.
• The incidence of war is more common between religious groups with a younger age composition and less frequent among communities with older age structures.
• When religious groups show contrasting age patterns, this could potentially affect the level of support for and sustainability of social welfare programs.
• Aging of religious communities can affect how the faith is expressed and which dimensions of the religion are emphasised.
• The role of religion can change over the life so religious texts and rituals may become more important for older adults.

According to the study's lead author, Dr Vergard Skirbekk: "Older age groups tend to emphasise religion in terms of its relevance for inter-generational relationships and support, traditions and norms, as meaning, relief and solace in the face of life challenges and disease, coping strategies in the event of health challenges, as well as rituals relating to end-of-life practices. "

The researchers found the younger generation seek religion as guidance for behaviour, lifestyle choices, education, family formation and work.

The most telling point of this report is as religiosity shifts occur, they are likely to affect how many religions will be perceived within the community, particularly by those people without a religious affiliation.

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