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Islam has the largest number of under-30 believers in China?

Christian Today has posted an article with this headline: “Islam is the most popular religion for under-30s in China."

The lead says:

Islam has the largest number of young believers in China, new research has found, despite the growth of Christianity in the country and an atheist government.

The China Religion Survey 2015, released by the National Survey Research Centre at Renmin University of China, found that 22.4 per cent of Muslims in China are under 30, with Catholicism following closely behind at 22 per cent aged 30 or under.” [My emphasis added.]

It appears to me the lead is unclear, and, in its lack of clarity, wrong. It would be more accurate to say Islam has the “largest percentage” or “largest share” of believers under the age of 30.

Let’s do the math:

Muslims in China number at most 24.4 million.

If 22% are under the age of 30, then under-30 Muslims number about 5.3 million.

Catholics probably make up about 20 million (according to both Asia Harvest and the World Christian Database).  The current study seems to suggest Catholics also have about 22% (slightly under Muslims) of their membership under age 30. So Catholics would likewise have slightly fewer people in absolute numbers: 22% of 20 million = 5 million.

But Protestants number 84 million.

If even 10% (half) were under 30, then under-30s would equate to 8.4 million. If it’s 20% then under-30s would be 16 million, or 3 times the number of Muslim under-30s.

It’s not likely that less than 5% or so of Protestants are under the age of 30!

Meanwhile, an article in Global Times, reporting on the Renmin University study, makes the claim that most religious Chinese are younger

There are 1.4 billion people in China, and if 578 million are under 30, that leaves about 900 million who are over. A good chunk of those would be Buddhists and Taoists, and you have to count them as religious. Without doing extended analysis, I would contend there are more older religious Chinese than younger—invalidating the Global Times statement.

What I think the original study was saying is this: of all religious groups, Muslims in China have the highest percentage of members (not the highest absolute number of members) who are under the age of 30. Or, more simply stated: the average age of Islam is younger than any other group.

Muslims do tend to have a higher birth rate, which would skew toward a younger population.

This just goes to show that we need to be careful in how we say these kinds of things, and just think for a moment about what’s being said.

Edited from the original article published on July 13, 2015 by Justin Long at The Fine Print.

Image credit: Students by Peter Morgan, in Flickr.

Justin Long

Justin Long is a missionary researcher with ActBeyond. You can contact Justin at and follow him on Twitter @justinlong.View Full Bio

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