Studying Trends in World Religion using R

Using a data set from the Pew Research Center, this post is about unpacking trends in world religion. The data set contains estimated religious compositions by country from 2010 to 2050.

Sourcing the Data

Made readily available via Github, the file was easy to import into the R environment. Reshaping the data (wide to long format) using the tidyverse “gather” function simplifies plotting down the road.

After reshaping, the data resembles the table below:

Visualizations

Let’s start by visualizing religious composition by region over time.

A few observations:

  • Asia-Pacific has the least concentrated religious mix, with a “rainbow” assortment of Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists.
  • Christianity is on the decline in North American and Europe.
  • Simultaneously, the percentage of people reporting to be “unaffiliated” with any religion is growing in North America and Europe.

Next, let’s take a look at the least religious countries.

Any patterns of interest?

  • Most of the least religious countries are in Europe and Asian.
  • The Czech Republic tops the list with 76% unaffiliated, beating communist North Korea by a full five percentage points.
  • 50%+ of the China, Hong Kong, and Japan population is non-religious.

Lastly, what will change between 2010 and 2050?

For simplicity, I’ve only included differences greater or less than 2%.

  • Again, we see evidence of a decline in the percentage of Christians globally, although it appears to be most concentrated in Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Meanwhile, a larger portion of the population in places like Europe and Asia-Pacific is expected to be Muslim or non-religious.

Conclusion

This was a good exercise in brainstorming ways to slice a seemingly simple data set in pursuit of insights. You can find the data set for your own analysis here, or find the code that produced the visuals here.

Featured photo by Janilson Alves Furtado from Burst.

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