Pew Research Foundation
Muslims are projected to increase as a share of Europe’s population – even with no future migration. In recent years, Europe has experienced a record influx of asylum seekers fleeing conflicts in Syria and other predominantly Muslim countries. This wave of Muslim migrants has prompted debate about immigration and security policies in numerous countries and has raised questions about the current and future number of Muslims in Europe.
To see how the size of Europe’s Muslim population may change in the coming decades, Pew Research Center has modeled three scenarios that vary depending on future levels of migration. These are not efforts to predict what will happen in the future, but rather a set of projections about what could happen under different circumstances.
The baseline for all three scenarios is the Muslim population in Europe (defined here as the 28 countries presently in the European Union, plus Norway and Switzerland) as of mid-2016, estimated at 25.8 million (4.9% of the overall population) – up from 19.5 million (3.8%) in 2010.
Even if all migration into Europe were to immediately and permanently stop – a “zero migration” scenario – the Muslim population of Europe still would be expected to rise from the current level of 4.9% to 7.4% by the year 2050. This is because Muslims are younger (by 13 years, on average) and have higher fertility (one child more per woman, on average) than other Europeans, mirroring a global pattern.
A second, “medium” migration scenario assumes that all refugee flows will stop as of mid-2016 but that recent levels of “regular” migration to Europe will continue (i.e., migration of those who come for reasons other than seeking asylum). Under these conditions, Muslims could reach 11.2% of Europe’s population in 2050.
Finally, a “high” migration scenario projects the record flow of refugees into Europe between 2014 and 2016 to continue indefinitely into the future with the same religious composition (i.e., mostly made up of Muslims) in addition to the typical annual flow of regular migrants. In this scenario, Muslims could make up 14% of Europe’s population by 2050 – nearly triple the current share, but still considerably smaller than the populations of both Christians and people with no religion in Europe.
The refugee flows of the last few years, however, are extremely high compared with the historical average in recent decades, and already have begun to decline as the European Union and many of its member states have made policy changes aimed at limiting refugee flows.
Taken as a whole, Europe’s population (including both Muslims and non-Muslims) would be expected to decline considerably (from about 521 million to an estimated 482 million) without any future migration. In the medium migration scenario, it would remain roughly stable, while in the high migration scenario it would be projected to grow modestly.
Countries that have received relatively large numbers of Muslim refugees in recent years are projected to experience the biggest changes in the high migration scenario – the only one that projects these heavy refugee flows to continue into the future. For instance, Germany’s population (6% Muslim in 2016) would be projected to be about 20% Muslim by 2050 in the high scenario – a reflection of the fact that Germany has accepted many Muslim refugees in recent years – compared with 11% in the medium scenario and 9% in the zero migration scenario.
And countries with Muslim populations that are especially young, or have a relatively large number of children, would see the most significant change in the zero migration scenario; these include France, Italy and Belgium.
An estimated 3.7 million Muslims migrated to Europe between mid-2010 and mid-2016, including approximately 2.5 million regular migrants entering legally as workers, students, etc., as well as 1.3 million Muslims who have or are expected to be granted refugee status (including an estimated 980,000 Muslim refugees who arrived between 2014 and mid-2016).
Between mid-2010 and mid-2016, the number of Muslims in Europe grew considerably through natural increase alone – that is, estimated births outnumbered deaths among Muslims by more than 2.9 million over that period. But most of the Muslim population growth in Europe during the period (about 60%) was due to migration: The Muslim population grew by an estimated 3.5 million from net migration.
By comparison, the non-Muslim population in Europe declined slightly between 2010 and 2016. A natural decrease of about 1.7 million people in the non-Muslim European population modestly outnumbered the net increase of non-Muslim migrants and a modest net change due to religious switching.
This report was produced by Pew Research Center as part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world. Funding for the Global Religious Futures project comes from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation.