Muslims in India have higher fertility rates than other religious groups, but they also experienced the sharpest decline in fertility in recent decades, according to a new study by the PEW Research Centre.
In the study, the PEW Centre says that the average Muslim woman had at least one more child than the average Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain in 1992.
DECLINE IN RATES
By 2015, the report notes that fertility rates across all groups fell, with Muslims experiencing the most significant decline, from an average of 4.4 children per woman in 1992 to an average of 2.6 in 2015. Women belonging to the Hindu religion had an average of 3.3 children in 1992, a figure that fell to 2.1 by 2015. The report mentions that the fertility gap between Muslim and Hindu women in India shrank from 1.1 to 0.5 children.
The report finds that Hindus make up 79.8 per cent of the population and Muslims account for 14.2 per cent Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains account for most of the remaining six per cent. It mentions that the share of Muslims in the country grew by about 4 percentage points between 1951 and 2011 and the share of Hindus declined by about 4 points. The shares of Indians in other religions held relatively steady. Muslims are growing somewhat faster than other groups because they tend to have more children, the report notes.
Fertility in India is closely related to women’s education. Among women in their 40s, who have generally completed both formal education and childbearing, Christians had an average of seven years of schooling, according to 2015 data, compared with 4.2 years among Hindus and 3.2 years among Muslims. Each additional year of education correlates with a significant drop in fertility, according to a multilevel analysis by Pew Research Center that accounts for education, wealth, age and place of residence – all factors known to be associated with fertility. The study notes that if Christian women were similar to other Indian women in their 40s in all of these ways, they would have nearly a full child more than they actually do, on average, and bigger families than Hindus, according to the analysis. This difference is largely driven by the relatively high levels of education among Christian women in their 40s.
The report notes that the overall population of the country more than tripled between 1951 and 2011. However, the growth slowed since the 1990s. The total number of Indians grew to 1.2 billion in the 2011 census from 361 million in the 1951 census. In this, the number of Hindus grew to 966 million (from 304 million in 1951), Muslims to 172 million (from 35 million), Christians to 28 million (from 8 million), Sikhs to 20.8 million (from 6.8 million). Buddhists to 8.4 million (from 2.7 million) and Jains to 4.5 million (from 1.7 million). Meanwhile, the population of Parsis shrank by almost half, to 60,000 in 2011. Deaths among Parsis have outnumbered births, due to the group’s relatively high median age and low fertility rate, the PEW Centre said.
Since 1990s, India’s overall population growth has slowed considerably. The country’s growth rate dropped to 22 per cent in the 1990s and to 18 per cent in the most recent census decade. Growth among Hindus slowed from a high of around 24 per cent to about 17 per cent in the 2000s, while Muslim grow among Christians dropped to 16 per cent.
Migration has not greatly affected India’s religious composition. In 2019, the United Nations estimated that about 17.5 million people who were born in India resided elsewhere, and that there were 5.2 million foreign-born people living in India, amounting to about 0.4% of India’s population that year. These numbers are not large enough to have much impact on the religious composition of a country of India’s size.
In India, religious conversion or switching appears to be rare. In a survey of 30,000 Indians, the PEW Centre says that they found very few saying they had switched religions since childhood. It said that 99 per cent adults who were raised Hindu are still Hindu. Among those raised as Muslims, 97 per cent are still Muslims and 94 per cent of people raised as Christians still identify as Christians. HINDUS India is home to about 94 per cent of the world’s Hindus.
Apart from this, the country is also home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations, surpassed only by Indonesia, which had 209 million Muslims in 2010. Pakistan’s Muslim population is roughly the same size as India’s. Bangladesh follows in fourth place, with 134 million Muslims. Hindus are the majority in 28 of India’s 35 states, including the most populous ones: Uttar Pradesh (total population 200 million), Maharashtra (112 million) and Bihar (104 million). Muslims are a majority in the small western archipelago of Lakshadweep (<100,000) and in Jammu and Kashmir (13 million), on the border with Pakistan. But only 5% of Muslims live in these two places; 95% live in states where they are a religious minority. Christians form a majority of the populations of Nagaland (2 million), Mizoram (1 million) and Meghalaya (3 million) – all small, sparsely populated states in India’s Northeastern panhandle bordering China, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal.
There is only one state in which a group other than Hindus, Muslims and Christians form a majority – Punjab. About 16 million residents of Punjab identified as Sikh in the 2011 census, making this state home to most of the world’s Sikhs.