Pew Forum discusses lack of available census data on Sikhs

Alan Cooperman, Associate Director of Research, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Alan Cooperman, Associate Director of Research, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Alan Cooperman is the Associate Director for Research at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life. In response to yesterday’s post about the Pew Forum’s latest report The Global Religious Landscape, Mr. Cooperman provides more insight about the study, and about the dearth of statistics available related to Sikh counts in countries around the world.

His feedback and the information that he provides is very much appreciated and acknowledged.

You can read more about Alan Cooperman at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life website.

Dear Mr. Singh,

We at the Pew Forum are very interested in all religious groups, including Sikhs. We would very much like to be able to include Sikhs as a separate category in all of our reports. However, we are dependent on the data collected in censuses and surveys around the world.

For our recent report on the Global Religious Landscape, for example, we gathered all the high-quality demographic data we could find. Our team of professional demographers and other researchers spent more than a year compiling 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers from 232 countries and territories. And, as we explained in the report’s preface, we found that Sikhs are measured in fewer than 20 out of 232 countries. Please don’t blame the Pew Forum for this. Like you, we regret that there isn’t more high-quality, quantitative information available on Sikhs as well as on numerous other religious groups. Our decision to include Sikhs in the “other religions” category is not a result of a lack of interest on our part. Rather, it is a result of a lack of data. In more than 90% of the world’s countries and territories, Sikhs are not specifically enumerated on censuses or surveys.

Moreover, among the countries where Sikhs are specifically enumerated in surveys, many have too few Sikh respondents to allow a reliable estimate of the Sikh share of the population. In the Global Religious Landscape report, we present data not only on the total size of religious populations but also on the age structure of religious groups (how old their adherents are), which requires even more fine-grained information. Reasonably reliable data on Sikhs are available in a few countries, such as India and the United Kingdom, but even in the United States, it is difficult to measure the Sikh population. In our own surveys in the United States, we keep track of Sikh respondents, but the numbers are quite small – less than 0.3% (three-tenths of 1 percent) in our U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, for example.

Based on the data that are available from some key countries, particularly India, it is possible to make a ballpark estimate of the size of the Sikh population globally. That estimate – approximately 25 million – is cited in our recent report. And, as we note in the report, Sikhs are by far the largest religion within the “other” category, though the category also includes a number of religions with millions of adherents around the world, including the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Shintoism and Taoism. We wish that in addition to a ballpark global figure, we could present estimates of the number of Sikhs in most or all countries. Unfortunately, at present, it is not possible to do so, despite our best efforts.

Respectfully submitted,

Alan Cooperman
Associate Director for Research


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