Muslims live in the biggest households globally

Courtesy of Pew Research Center

NEW YORK – Muslims and Hindus live in the biggest households around the world, according to a new demographic analysis of data from 130 countries and territories by the Pew Research Center, while Christians in the most developed countries, including in North America and Europe, have the smallest households.

Worldwide, Muslims live in the biggest households, with the average Muslim individual residing in a home 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 “nones” – live in smaller households, on average.

According to Pew, household size is one easy way to compare the lived experiences of people around the world. Bigger 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.

Globally, the most common household type 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, the Pew analysis concluded.

Muslims, Christians and Jews are more likely to reside in two-parent households, composed of two partners with one or more minor children. Living alone is unusual 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 solo households. From a global perspective, Jews also are much more likely than non-Jews to live in households consisting of a couple without children or other relatives.

The distribution of religious groups across the globe, play a big part in the household demography. Six-in-ten Christians live in the Americas and Europe, where households tend to be comparatively small, while eight-in-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 affect 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. Moreover, because some religious groups are concentrated in a few countries, the economic conditions and government policies in those places can have a big influence on a group’s global household patterns.

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 penalized couples who had more than one child. 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-in-ten of the world’s Hindus are found in India, where prevailing cultural norms shape many of the findings for that religious group, said Pew.

Among the 130 countries with data available on households and religious affiliation, the household size experienced by the average person ranges from 2.7 people (in Germany) to 13.8 people (in Gambia). By region, people tend to form the smallest households in Europe (3.1) and North America (3.3). The biggest households are in sub-Saharan Africa (6.9) and the Middle East-North Africa (6.2). Latin America and the Caribbean (4.6) and the Asia-Pacific region (5.0) fall in the middle.

Regional patterns influence the living arrangements among religious groups, according to the analysis. Muslims in Europe, for example, generally live in larger households than non-Muslims in Europe (4.1 vs. 3.1, on average). Still, European Muslims follow the region’s overall tendency toward relatively small households, and Muslims in Europe live with fewer people than Muslims in other parts of the world.

The study found that people are more likely to live alone in countries with higher levels of schooling. Young adults often delay or forgo childbearing to pursue advanced education, contributing to the tendency of highly educated couples to live without other family members. And in places where people tend to live well beyond their childbearing years, they are more likely to live alone as seniors or as couples without children.

The study said men in every country are older, on average, than their wives or female cohabiting partners. This age gap is widest among Muslims and Hindus, and smallest among Jews and the religiously unaffiliated. Women ages 60 and older are more likely than men in this age group to live alone. Three-in-ten Christian and Jewish women over 60 live alone, while only 6% of Hindus do.

More Christians than members of any other religious group live in single-parent homes (6%). And women, particularly Christian women, are more likely than men to live as single parents.

For India, the study points a clear path to achieve developed nation status: give access to higher education across the country, and better health facilities, including in rural areas, which will help in cutting down on household numbers. Those migrating demographics then will create more households, which will increase economic activity, and resultantly, prosperity.

In turn, the government and private enterprises would have to build more old age homes and communities to take care of the aging population, a critical need in India, at present.

While there are benefits and economic safety net to living in a ‘joint’ household, as has been the norm in India, the Pew study establishes a clear demarcation between the economic haves and have nots: household size.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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