India’s Religious Groups in Numbers: Key Findings
Religious pluralism has long been a core value in India, which has a large majority of Hindus and a smaller proportion of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and other groups. In recent years, the size of these communities and their future growth has been topics of great interest to the Indian public.
A new Pew research center report shows that the religious composition of India has been fairly stable since the 1947 score which divided the Indian subcontinent into predominantly Hindu India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan. This study – the second in the series of the Center on religion in india – covers the six decades between 1951, the date of the first post-partition census, and 2011, the date of the most recent census in the country. Here are some of the main findings of the report:
This study by the Pew Research Center describes the religious composition of the Indian population, its evolution between 1951 and 2011 and the main causes of this change. The analysis focuses on India’s three largest religious groups – Hindus, Muslims, and Christians – and also covers Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains where appropriate data is available.
Population sizes over time are taken from the Decennial Census of India. The census has collected detailed information, including on religion, on the people of India since 1881. Data on fertility and how it relates to factors such as levels of education and location of birth. residence come from Indian National Family Health Survey (NFHS)). The NFHS is a large, nationally representative household survey with more comprehensive information on reproduction than the census.
Migration data comes mainly from the United Nations Population Division. Responses to the survey on change of religion (or conversion) and interfaith marriage come from a Pew Research Center survey of 29,999 Indian adults conducted in late 2019 and early 2020.
For more information, see the report Methodology.
India’s overall population more than tripled between 1951 and 2011, although growth rates have slowed since the 1990s. The total number of Indians rose to 1.2 billion in the 2011 census, against 361 million in the 1951 census. The number of Hindus rose to 966 million (against 304 million in 1951), Muslims to 172 million (against 35 million), Christians at 28 million (against 8 million), Sikhs at 20.8 million (against 6.8 million), Buddhists at 8.4 million. (from 2.7 million) and the Jains to 4.5 million (from 1.7 million). The Parsis of India, a small minority, are unusual as their population has shrunk by almost half, to 60,000 in 2011. Deaths among Parsis have exceeded the number of births, due to the relatively high median age group and low fertility rate.
India’s overall population growth has slowed considerably, especially since the 1990s. After adding the equivalent of nearly a quarter of its population each decade in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the country’s growth rate fell to 22% in the 1990s and to 18% in the last decade of the census. Growth among Hindus slowed from a peak of around 24% to around 17% in the 2000s, while Muslim growth slowed to around 25% and the rate among Christians fell to 16%.
Hindus represent 79.8% of the Indian population and Muslims 14.2%; Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains make up most of the remaining 6%. Between 1951 and 2011, the share of Muslims in India increased modestly, by around 4 percentage points, while the share of Hindus decreased by around 4 percentage points. The shares of Indians in other religions have remained relatively stable. Muslims grow up a bit faster than other groups because they tend to have more children.
Muslims in India have higher fertility rates than other groups, but they have also experienced the largest fertility decline in recent decades. In 1992, the average Muslim woman had at least one child more than the average Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain. By 2015, fertility rates in all groups had fallen, with Muslims experiencing the largest decline, from an average of 4.4 children per woman in 1992 to an average of 2.6 in 2015. Hindu women had an average of 3.3 children in 1992, a figure that fell to 2.1 in 2015. As a result of these changes, the fertility gap between Muslim and Hindu women in India fell from 1.1 to 0 , 5 child.
In India, fertility is closely linked to the education of women, and Christian women are in school longer. Among women in their 40s, who have typically completed both formal education and childbearing, Christians have an average of seven years of schooling, according to 2015 data, compared to 4.2 years among Hindus and 3.2 years. years among Muslim women.
Each additional year of education correlates with a significant decline in fertility, according to a multi-level analysis by the Pew Research Center that takes into account education, wealth, age and place of residence – all factors known to be associated with fertility. Surprisingly, if Christian women were similar to other Indian women in their forties in all of these ways, they would almost have a full child more than they actually have, on average, and larger families than Hindus, according to the analysis. This difference is largely due to the relatively high educational levels of Christian women in their forties.
Migration has not greatly affected the religious makeup of India. In 2019, the United Nations estimated that about 17.5 million people born in India resided elsewhere and that there were 5.2 million foreign born people living in India, or about 0.4% of the Indian population that year. These numbers are not large enough to have a big impact on the religious makeup of a country the size of India.
Unauthorized immigration is a controversial subject in India and almost impossible to measure accurately over time. According to some reports, several million people from Muslim-majority countries live in India without legal status or papers. But such high estimates have been put forward without supporting evidence and seem implausible due to the lack of corresponding exits from source countries and other indicators. Meanwhile, according to a 2012 study Pew Research Center estimate, Muslims and Christians were more likely than Hindus to leave India, and about two-thirds of immigrants to India were Hindus.
Change of religion, or conversion, seems to be rare in India. In the center recent poll out of nearly 30,000 Indian adults, very few reported having changed their religion since childhood. In fact, 99% of adults who were raised Hindus are still Hindus. Of those raised as Muslims, 97% are still Muslim in adulthood, and 94% of those raised as Christians still identify as Christians. In addition, people who change their religion tend to cancel each other out. For example, among all Indian adults, 0.7% were raised Hindu but no longer identify as such, and 0.8% were raised outside the religion and are now Hindus.
India is home to around 94% of the world’s Hindus. Along with Nepal, it is one of the only two countries with a Hindu majority, according to a Pew Research Center 2015 analysis. India is also home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, surpassed only by Indonesia, which numbered 209 million Muslims in 2010. Pakistan’s Muslim population is roughly the same size as that of India. India. Bangladesh follows in fourth place, with 134 million Muslims. (Today’s Bangladesh was part of Pakistan at the time of partition, but seceded in the 1970s.) Pakistan and Bangladesh are both predominantly Muslim, but the overall population of these countries is much smaller than that of India. Overall, India has the second largest population in the world and is expected to overtake China by 2030.
Hindus are in the majority in 28 of India’s 35 states, including the most populous: Uttar Pradesh (total population 200 million), Maharashtra (112 million) and Bihar (104 million). Muslims are in the majority in the small western archipelago of Lakshadweep (
Christians form the majority of the populations of Nagaland (2 million), Mizoram (1 million) and Meghalaya (3 million) – all small, sparsely populated states in the northeastern enclave of India bordering China, the Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal. There is only one state in which a group other than Hindus, Muslims and Christians is in the majority: Punjab. About 16 million people in the Punjab were identified as Sikhs in the 2011 census, making the state home to most of the world’s Sikhs.
Stephanie Kramer is a senior researcher specializing in religion at the Pew Research Center.