Muslim population in Europe projected to rise

A prominent US think tank has projected that Muslims' share of the population in Europe will rise. Excluding migration, the researchers expect Muslims to make up 7.4 percent of Europe's population by mid-century.

The share of Muslims living in Europe may double to more than 10 percent of the population by mid-century, according to new research on the continent's growing Muslim population.

Society | 02.11.2017

The projections of the Pew Research Center are likely to fuel further debate over immigration after a record influx of migrants and refugees into Europe in recent years.

The US-based public opinion and demographic research center modelled Muslim population growth in Europe, defined as the 28 European Union countries plus Norway and Switzerland, on three scenarios taking into account natural population growth, future regular migration — such as for work or school — and refugee migration. 

Even under the unrealistic assumption that all migration to Europe stopped today, known as "zero" migration, the percentage of Muslims in Europe would rise to 7.4 percent in 2050 from 4.9 percent in 2016. In Germany, the Muslim population in 2050 would rise to nearly 9 percent from 6 percent today.

Researchers cautioned that it is very difficult to anticipate the future and underscored that the projections are hypothetical. Push factors that impact migrant and refugee flows, such as instability in Africa and the Middle East, may wane or increase. Much also depends on economics and European governments, which have tightened migration policies domestically and on the EU's borders.

The researchers based their projections on those people who identify themselves as Muslims using data from 2,500 data points, including official statistics and polls carried out in countries that do not collect information on religious identity.

The percentage rise can be accounted for by differences in age structure and fertility rate between Muslims and non-Muslims. Muslims in Europe are on average younger (30.4 years) than non-Muslims (43.8), meaning more women are of child-bearing age.

The researchers predict that a Muslim woman will have 2.6 children, one more than the 1.6 children that a non-Muslim woman living in Europe will bear. The reseachers pointed out that while not all children born to Muslim parents will identify as Muslim, kids tend to take on the religious identity of their parents. 

'Medium' and 'high' migration scenarios

Under two other projected scenarios, Muslims would account for between 11 and 14 percent of Europe's population by mid-century. For Germany, which has taken in many Muslim migrants and refugees in recent years, the percentage of Muslims is projected to lie between 11 and 20 percent.

The so-called "high" migration scenario assumes record refugee flows witnessed between 2014 and 2016 will continue, as well as regular migration. It also assumes that future refugees will be mainly Muslim, as was the case between 2010 and 2016.

The "medium" migration scenario assumes refugee flows will stop but regular migration will continue at previous levels. 

"The zero migration and the high-migration scenario are really thought experiments, kind of what it could be like at either end of the spectrum," said Conrad Hackett, one of the lead researchers of the study. "It seems like there is a good chance that the medium scenario, or something a little higher than that, is a more reasonable guess."

Regular migration

Between 2010 and 2016, 7 million people from all religious backgrounds arrived in Europe as regular migrants or refugees. More than half (3.7 million) were Muslims.

Only 1.6 million of the total 7 million people were refugees. But the vast majority of refugees were Muslim (1.3 million), reflecting war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan as top origin countries. 

"Although there is understandably a lot of discussion about the impact of asylum-seekers on the population broadly and particularly the Muslim population in Europe, in fact the flow of migrants who are coming to go to school, to seek jobs and other kinds of regular non-asylum-seeker migration have been, and will likely continue to be, a significant part of the increase in the Muslim population," Hackett said, referring to regular migration. 

However, in Germany's case, the country's increase in Muslims mostly come from refugees as opposed to regular migration. Germany took in 670,000 refugees between 2010 and 2016, 86 percent of whom were Muslims, according to the report. During the same period Germany also took in 680,000 regular migrants, of whom 40 percent were Muslim.

Read more: Muslims 'integrate' well into Germany - but aren't accepted

Many variables

Importantly, the figure of 7 million regular migrants and refugees does not include some 1.7 million asylum-seekers who have had their asylum applications rejected or are not expected to receive protection. Around 1 million of these 1.7 million individuals are Muslim.

Read more: When an asylum request is rejected

Another factor that may affect the number of Muslims in Europe is whether rejected asylum-seekers return to their country of origin voluntarily or through forced deportation.

An additional factor that may impact future Muslim population numbers is family reunification. Accepted asylum-seekers are generally allowed to bring immediate family, although in countries such as Germany the government has moved to impose some restrictions.

Read more: Family reunification in Germany - what you need to know

"If family reunification policies allow existing refugees [to bring their families], that would push us towards higher numbers, not necessarily towards levels that we've seen in last couple years, but higher than the medium scenario which is only regular migration," Hackett said.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

How successful is linguistic integration?

Three quarters of German-born Muslims grow up with German as a first language. Among immigrants, only one fifth claim that German is their first language. The trend of language skills improving with successive generations is apparent across Europe. In Germany 46 percent of all Muslims say that their national language is their first language. In Austria this is 37 percent, Switzerland 34 percent.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

How do Muslims view interreligious relationships?

According to a 2017 study by Religion Monitor, 87 percent of Swiss Muslims have frequent contact with non-Muslims in their free time. In Germany and France it is 78 percent, while in the UK it's 68 percent and Austria, 62 percent. A large majority of Muslims in succeeding generations are found to have constant contact with non-Muslims, despite existing societal hurdles.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

Do Muslims feel connected in Europe?

Ninety-six percent of French Muslims feel connected with their country. The percentage of Muslims feeling the same way is equally high in Germany, while Switzerland has the highest levels, at 98 percent. Yet despite its relatively longer history of institutional openness to religious and cultural diversity, fewer Muslims, (89 percent) report feeling close ties to the UK.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

How important is religion in the daily life of European Muslims?

Muslims from immigrant families maintain a strong religious commitment which continues across generations. Sixty-four percent of Muslims living in the UK describe themselves as highly religious. The share of devout Muslims stands at 42 percent in Austria, 39 percent in Germany, 33 percent in France and 26 percent in Switzerland.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

What percentage of Muslim students pursue a degree?

According to data, 36 percent of German-born Muslims finish their education by the age of 17, without pursuing further studies. In Austria too, this proportion is around 39 percent. On the other hand, owing to a more equitable school system in France, Muslims there register significantly better educational outcomes. Only one in ten Muslim students leaves school before reaching 17.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

What percentage of Muslims are in the job market?

About 60 percent of all Muslims who moved to Germany before 2010 now hold a full-time job, while 20 percent work part-time jobs. The figures are similar to those of non-Muslims. Muslims in Germany had higher employment rates than in other European countries. In France, the unemployment rate among Muslims is 14 percent, far higher than the 8 percent reported for non-Muslims.

Minarette und Moscheen in Deutschland und Europa, Moschee Duisburg Flash-Galerie (AP)

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

How widespread is the rejection of Islam?

More than one in four non-Muslims in Austria do not want Muslims neighbors. This percentage is remarkably high in the UK as well, at 21 percent. In Germany, 19 percent of non-Muslim respondents say that they would not welcome Muslim neighbors. The figure stands at 17 percent in Switzerland and 14 percent in France. Overall, Muslims are among the most rejected social group.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

‘Muslims in Europe - Integrated but not accepted’

The information included in this picture gallery is from the Bertelsmann Foundation’s study titled ‘Muslims in Europe - Integrated but not accepted?’ Conclusions are based on a representative survey of more than 10,000 people in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and the UK. Muslim refugees who arrived in Europe after 2010 were not surveyed for the study.