People who are not affiliated with a religion – sometimes referred to as the “noes” – make up 16% of the world’s population and are the largest “religious group” in seven countries and territories. More remarkably perhaps, these are also the second biggest group in about half (48%) of the nations of the world.
Indeed, while Christians or Muslims are the largest religious group in nine out of ten countries around the world, “nones” rank second in most of the Americas and Europe, as well as in many sub-Saharan African countries. .
No-ones are a diverse set of people, including atheists and agnostics, as well as those who have a mixture of religious beliefs and practices but do not identify with any particular faith. Although the ‘no’s are not a religion per se, they are broadly categorized as such because, regardless of their beliefs, they do not identify with a religious group.
Of the 112 countries and territories in which unaffiliated ranks second, Christians are the largest religion out of 106. In many of these countries, including the United States and most of Western Europe, the “nones” constitute a substantial minority. They make up a quarter or more of the population in the UK and Germany, for example.
Christians are the second-largest religious group in 43 countries – including much of North Africa and the Muslim-majority Middle East – although in many of those states, such as Saudi Arabia and Libya , less than 5% of the inhabitants are Christians. Indeed, in many countries, the largest group is much larger than the second largest group. Across all countries and territories in the world, the median share of the country’s population in the largest religious group is 88%, while the median share in the second largest group is 9%. Three quarters of the world’s population live with the largest religious group in their country, while 16% belong to the second largest group.
Muslims are the second largest group in 30 countries. Islam ranks second to Christianity in many African countries, especially in the sub-Saharan belt of nations that cross the continent. Many of these countries, such as Nigeria and Ethiopia, are situated between the predominantly Muslim Maghreb of North Africa and the more firmly Christian countries of the south of the continent. Islam is also the second largest religion in India, after Hinduism.
Followers of popular religions are the largest religious group in only three countries (Macau, Taiwan and Vietnam), but they are the second largest group in 23 countries, including China (where the “nones” are the most big group). Hindus, meanwhile, are the second largest group in 12 countries, perhaps most notably Pakistan. Buddhists are the second largest group in seven countries (including Japan). The Jews are not the second largest religious group in any nation.
Note: This analysis is based on the eight religious categories used in “The Future of World Religionsreport: Christians, Muslims, non-affiliated, Hindus, Buddhists, followers of popular religions, Jews and followers of other religions. These results would vary if the subgroups within these categories were classified as separate religions.
Data on the religious composition of countries and regions, as well as future projections of composition, are available in sortable arrays. You can also download a list (Excel file) of the largest and second largest religious groups in each country. Additional country-level religious demographics data are available at Global Religious Futures website.
Conrad Hacket is a senior demographer and associate director of research at the Pew Research Center.
Timmy Huinh is a former advanced analytics intern specializing in demographics and religion at the Pew Research Center.