Buddhism: Growth and Decline
Buddhism is a religion rooted in the ideas of Siddhartha Gautama, and the number of Buddhist followers has grown significantly over the last century. In 1910, researchers reported that Buddhism had a following of approximately 138 million individuals, primarily concentrated throughout Asia. By 2010, that number had reached roughly 495 million, with a larger population size outside of Asia. Between 2000 and 2010, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar were two of the countries with the fastest growth in the practice of Buddhism. Australia also reported that Buddhism was the country's fastest growing religion in terms of percentage, with a growth rate of 79.1% between 1996 and 2001.
Sociologists predict that the global Buddhist population will increase to 511 million by 2030, but then experience a decline over the following 2 decades. These researchers claim that the population will return to its current size by 2050. This decline is expected due to a low birth rate in Buddhist women and an aging population that will not be replaced by younger generations. This change means that the worldwide percentage of Buddhists, which is currently around 7%, will drop to only 5% in 2050, taking global population increase into account. In some countries, however, the population is expected to continue growing. This article discusses the countries expected to have the highest Buddhist population totals by the year 2050.
As of 2010, the Buddhist population in China was 244.11 million, which is the largest in the world. This population number represents 18.2% of its total population size, and 50% of the global Buddhist population. Over the next 4 decades, the total Buddhist population size in China is expected to decrease to 241.58 million. However, China will remain in the top position despite this decrease. Due to global population growth trends, this decrease of 2.6 million practitioners will mean that China is home to only 49.7% of all Buddhists in the world. Internally, however, the percentage will increase slightly to 18.5%, as population growth in general is expected to taper off.
Thailand currently has the second highest number of Buddhists in the world, and is expected to continue to have the second largest Buddhist population through 2050. In 2010, demographics in the country reported a Buddhist population size of 64.42 million, which represents 93.2% of its total population size, and 13.2% of the global Buddhist population. Following the trend of a decreasing number Buddhist practitioners, Thailand is predicted to have a Buddhist population of only 61.19 million by 2050. This change means that the population of Thailand will only be 90.3% Buddhist, which is a decrease of nearly a 3%. Additionally, this number will only represent 12.6% of the global Buddhist population.
Japan currently has the third largest Buddhist population in the world, with around 45.82 million individuals practicing the religion in the country, and accounting for 36.2% of the total population. This number represents 9.4% of the global Buddhist population. Experts expect this to change by 2050, however, as older individuals pass away and the population is not replaced due to the low birth rates of Buddhist women in Japan. This decrease will leave Japan with a Buddhist population of only 27.03 million, dropping it down to the 4th largest in the world.
Myanmar, which currently has the 4th largest Buddhist population, will move up to the 3rd place by 2050. The country currently reports a Buddhist population of 38.41 million, which is 7.9% of the global Buddhist population, and 80.1% of its total internal population. Myanmar is one of the few countries which is expected to experience an increase in its Buddhist population. By 2050, that number will reach around 44.71 million, or 9.2% of the global Buddhist population. Internally, however, Buddhists will only make up 79.8% of the total population.
The chart presented below provides a more complete set of estimates of the top 10 Buddhist populations in 2050.