An analysis of religious conversion and secularization, and its application to demographic projections of religion

Joshua Ramos analyzes religious conversions and secularization within a global perspective, and their overall impact on population dynamics.

J. Ramos

J. Ramos


Over the last four decades, we have witnessed an era of global resurgence in every major world religion which has brought about a striking increase in religious influence within the public sphere and dominant global political structures [1]. Due to a combination of higher fertility rates, migration trends, and the intergenerational transmission of values of those who are religious, possible stalling and reversal of secularization within the United States and Europe is projected in around 2050 [2]. In the context of religious resurgence, the goal of this research project to analyze within a global perspective religious conversions and secularization, and their overall impact on population dynamics. The intention is to use these findings to create scenarios for the Pew-IIASA religion model, and apply them as case studies for specific countries and regions.

Data and Methodology

We used data from the United Nations Human Development Index, the World Religion Database, and the IIASA-Vienna Institute of Demography education statistics. We looked at the correlations in trends between education, income, and life expectancy, and the share of the religious unaffiliated for the period 1960-2010. Based on these trends, and on projections of secondary education, we created scenarios for possible outcomes of the growth of the religiously unaffiliated by region and world.

Results and Conclusions

There were correlations with human development, education, and the growth of the unaffiliated, with certain regions, such as Europe and North America exhibiting strong growth up 2010. We created two regions that underwent Communist rule, and witnessed the opposite effect of a resurgence of religious affiliation. Our scenarios were based on education, as a proxy for modernization. The scenarios suggest a decrease in the unaffiliated, though with variation across regions.


[1] Toft, Monica Duffy, Daniel Philpott and Timothy Shah, God's Century (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011).

[2] Kaufman, Eric, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? (Profile Books, 2010)


Joshua Ramos, of the University of Denver, Colorado, is a United States citizen. He was funded by IIASA's United States National Member Organization and during the YSSP worked in the World Population (POP) Program.

Please note these Proceedings have received limited or no review from supervisors and IIASA program directors, and the views and results expressed therein do not necessarily represent IIASA, its National Member Organizations, or other organizations supporting the work.

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Last edited: 19 August 2015


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