Jews are more highly educated than any other major religious group around the world, while Muslims and Hindus tend to have the fewest years of formal schooling, according to a Pew Research Center global demographic study that shows wide disparities in average educational levels among religious groups.
These gaps in educational attainment are partly a function of where religious groups are concentrated throughout the world. For instance, the vast majority of the world’s Jews live in the United States and Israel, two economically developed countries with high levels of education overall. And low levels of attainment among Hindus reflect the fact that 98% of Hindu adults live in the developing countries of India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
But there also are important differences in educational attainment among religious groups living in the same region, and even the same country. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, Christians generally have higher average levels of education than Muslims. Some social scientists have attributed this gap primarily to historical factors, including missionary activity during colonial times.
Drawing on census and survey data from 151 countries, the study also finds large gender gaps in educational attainment within some major world religions. For example, Muslim women around the globe have an average of 4.9 years of schooling, compared with 6.4 years among Muslim men. And formal education is especially low among Hindu women, who have 4.2 years of schooling on average, compared with 6.9 years among Hindu men.
Yet many of these disparities appear to be decreasing over time, as the religious groups with the lowest average levels of education – Muslims and Hindus – have made the biggest educational gains in recent generations, and as the gender gaps within some religions have diminished, according to Pew Research Center’s analysis.
At present, Jewish adults (ages 25 and older) have a global average of 13 years of formal schooling, compared with approximately nine years among Christians, eight years among Buddhists and six years among Muslims and Hindus. Religiously unaffiliated adults – those who describe their religion as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – have spent an average of nine years in school, a little less than Christian adults worldwide.