Over the past 115 years, the global Catholic population has more than quadrupled, from 266 million in 1900 to 1.2 billion in 2015, according to the World Christian Database. This growth mirrors the world’s soaring population in the same period, with Catholics hovering around 17% of the total population throughout. Despite unchanged global representation, Catholic geographic distribution has altered dramatically, with massive growth sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia and waning numbers in Europe.
As of 2015, Europe had 267 million total Catholics, second only to South America–home to the most populous Catholic country, Brazil–with 335 million faithful. But Europe is the only continent that will see a shrinking Catholic population in the coming years, according to projections by the World Christian Database. By 2030, Catholics in North America and Africa will soar past European estimates. African Catholics will even pass their peers in South America, with 450 million followers by 2050.
Declining numbers in Europe largely reflect low birth rates. Take Spain for example, where 1.43 children are born per woman in 2014, compared with 4.8 children per woman in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Growth in Southeast Asia follows a similar trend, like in the Philippines where 3 woman are born on average to each women.
In the United States, about a quarter of the population has remained Catholic for several decades, shows a 2013 Pew Research Center report. In 2015, 73.6 million U.S. Catholics made up 6% of those faithful to Francis worldwide.