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Our households – who lives with us, how we relate to them and what role we play in that shared space – have a profound effect on our daily experience of the world. A new Pew Research Center analysis of data from 130 countries and territories reveals that the size and composition of households often varies by religious affiliation.

How Many Religions Are Practiced In The World

How Many Religions Are Practiced In The World

Globally, Muslims live in the largest households, with the average Muslim individual living in a household of 6.4 people, followed by Hindus at 5.7. Christians fall in the middle (4.5), forming relatively large families in sub-Saharan Africa and smaller ones in Europe. Buddhists (3.9), Jews (3.7) and the religiously unaffiliated (3.7) – defined as those who do not identify with an organized religion, also known as “none” – live in smaller households, on average.

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This report looks at households from the perspective of an average person, rather than an average household. Although it is possible to calculate statistics either way, researchers chose the individual perspective because it better captures the lived experience of most people. Consider two households, one with a family of nine, the other with a single resident. The two households contain a total of 10 people, so the average household is five. But most of the individuals in these two households – nine out of 10 – live with more than five people. In fact, in this simple example, the average individual lives in a household of 8.2 people. (Here’s the math: Nine individuals, each living among nine people, plus one household of one person, is 9+9+9+9+9+9+9+9+9+1 = 82 /10 people in total = average person living in a household of 8.2 people.) For more on this topic, see this sidebar.

A household is one easy way to compare the life experiences of people around the world. Larger households are common in less developed countries, where people tend to have more children and families share limited resources. Smaller households are prevalent in wealthier countries, which tend to have aging populations and lower birth rates.

Extended: A household that includes relatives other than children or partners. For example, adults who live with their siblings or parents in addition to their own children.

Two-parent: Married or cohabiting partners with at least one biological, step or foster child under the age of 18. Adult children may attend, but no other relatives or non-relatives.

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Couple: Married or cohabiting partners with no one else. This includes couples whose children have grown up and moved away.

Adult child: At least one child over the age of 18 with one or two parents; no children under 18 years of age.

Single parent: One adult and at least one biological, step or foster child under 18. Adult children may attend, but no other relatives or non-relatives.

How Many Religions Are Practiced In The World

Polygamous: Households in which at least one member lives with more than one spouse or cohabiting partner. Other people may also live in the household. This category does not include every household containing a person who is in a polygamous relationship. For example, two women married to the same man may maintain separate households.

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Note: Married and cohabiting partners may include same-sex couples, although these relationships are more likely to be counted in the data sources for some countries than others. Also, individuals living in households with non-relatives, such as roommates, are included in the analysis but not reported as a separate category. People living in institutional settings, such as prisons, university dormitories and nursing homes, are not included. See Methodology for details.

But the number of people in any household is only one dimension of living arrangements. Because households of the same size can be so qualitatively different from each other – a three-person household might consist of a couple and one child, a child with a parent and grandparent, a husband and two wives, or many other combinations – understanding the distribution of various

Worldwide, the most common household is the extended family, accounting for 38% of the world’s population. But some religious groups are more likely to live in extended families than others. Hindus are the only major group in which a majority lives with extended family, such as grandparents, uncles and in-laws. Muslims, Christians and Jews are more likely to live in two-parent households, composed of two partners with one or more minors. Living alone is uncommon among all religious groups, but it is more common among Jews than among the world’s other major religions: About one in ten Jews worldwide are in single-person households. From a global perspective, Jews are also much more likely than non-Jews to live in households consisting of a couple without children or other relatives.

How or why religion is connected with living arrangements has been the subject of much research and debate. Sacred texts and spiritual leaders offer a range of guidance—from didactic anecdotes to outright prohibitions—on many aspects of family life, including marriage and care for the elderly. Previous social science research, particularly in the United States, indicates that the extent to which people value religion and participate in a religious community is linked to their patterns of marriage, divorce, and childbearing. (For a discussion of how religious teachings and family life can be connected, see this sidebar. For more on academic research exploring the connections between living arrangements and religion, see this sidebar in Chapter 2.)

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To be sure, religion is far from the only factor—or even the main factor—influencing household sizes and types around the world. People’s living arrangements are shaped by many circumstances, including laws, cultural norms, personal situations, and economic opportunities. However, examining the connections between households and religion helps shed light on the conditions under which members of various religious groups grow up, practice their faith, and pass on traditions to the next generation.

Some domestic patterns can be explained, at least in part, by the distribution of religious groups across the globe. Six out of ten Christians live in the Americas and Europe, where households tend to be relatively small, while eight out of ten Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East-North Africa regions, where households generally contain more individuals. Most of the world’s Jews live in the United States and Israel—two economically developed countries where advanced transportation and health care networks, educational opportunities, and other forms of infrastructure influence many life choices, including living arrangements.

At the same time, there are relatively few religiously unaffiliated people in the regions where families are largest – sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East-North Africa. In addition, because some religious groups are concentrated in a few countries, the economic conditions and government policies in those areas can have a large influence on a group’s global domestic patterns.

How Many Religions Are Practiced In The World

China, for example, is home to a majority of the world’s “nones” and about half of all Buddhists. From 1979 to 2016, the Chinese government enforced a “one-child policy” that punished couples who had more than one child.

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As a result, the size of households among Chinese Buddhists and “nones” is small – and China’s huge population has a big influence on the global figures for these groups. Meanwhile, more than nine out of ten of the world’s Hindus are found in India, where prevailing cultural norms shape many of the findings for this religious group.

Nigeria exemplifies the complexity and interconnectedness of factors that affect living arrangements. Africa’s most populous country is almost equally divided between two religious groups, with Muslims and Christians each accounting for about half the population. These groups have different historical legacies, laws and geographical distributions. Largely due to the influence of Christian missionaries who entered Nigeria via the Atlantic coast in the south, most Nigerians in the southern states are Christian, while those living in the north tend to be Muslim. Sections of Africa that were reached by missionaries often have more advanced systems of formal education today, while aid and research agencies have found that in Nigeria, the northern states have lower rates of educational attainment and economic development.

These differences extend to household formation. Typically, Muslims in Nigeria share their homes with almost three more people than their Christian compatriots, with an average household of 8.7 people among Nigerian Muslims, compared to 5.9 among Nigerian Christians. Also, although there is no national law providing for polygamy in Nigeria, polygamous marriages are recognized in 12 northern, Muslim-majority states – and Nigerian Muslims are much more likely than Christians to live in polygamous households (40% vs. 8%). (For a detailed discussion of polygamy in laws and religion, see here.)

Broadly, these examples show why it is difficult to isolate the causal effect of religion, which is inextricably linked to economic, geographical, legal and cultural factors not only in Nigeria but around the globe. Each country and part of the world has its own complex set of influences that influence household formation, resulting in a varied landscape of living arrangements.

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Among the 130 countries with available data on households and religious affiliation, the household size experienced by the average person ranges from 2.7.

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