THE BAHÁ'Í FAITH
Estimates of the Baha'i membership
Bahá'í membership numbers, outside the U.S.:
According to the 1992 Encyclopaedia Britannica Book of the Year, the
Bahá'í Faith had established "significant communities" in more countries
and territories than any other religion except for Christianity. They were
organized in 205 areas worldwide vs. 254 for Christianity. According to
The Baha'i World, this has since increased to 235 countries and territories,
including over 2,100 racial, ethnic and tribal groups. Encyclopćdia
Britannica Online estimates that they had about 7.4 million members
worldwide in mid-2002:
||1.8 million in Africa
||3.6 million in Asia
||0.13 million in Europe
||0.91 in Latin America
||0.81 in Northern America
||0.12 in Oceania. 1
The Bahá'í Faith states that it currently has about 6 million members
worldwide, including about 2.5 million adherents in India and 140,000 in the US.
The latter value is an increase from 75,448 adults and youth which it claimed in
The Canadian census found 14,730 in Canada in 1991 and 18,020 in 2001. 3
Estimates of U.S. membership data:
There does not appear to be any source of reliable U.S. membership data. This
is very common in the field of religion. The U.S. census does not
tabulate religious identification. Some estimates of Bahá'í membership is based
on the entire U.S. population; others include only persons affiliated with the
United States National Spiritual Assembly, which does not include Alaska,
Hawaii, and U.S. possessions.
||1900: 2,800 members, according to The Encyclopedia Britannica
||1970: 138,800 members, according to The Encyclopedia Britannica
||600,000 members, according to The Encyclopedia Britannica 5
||28,000 adult members, according to Barry Kosmin and Seymour Lachman
in their 1993 book
"One Nation Under God." The value was derived from Kosmin's
National Survey of Religious Identification
(NSRI) study of 1990. 6
||1995: 682,000 members, according to The Encyclopedia Britannica
||1998: 138,158 members, according to Robert Stockman, of the
U.S. Bahá'í National Center. This included 122,920 adults, 7,212
youth and 8,036 children. 4|
||753,000 members, according to The Encyclopedia Britannica 5
||785,262 members, according to the World
Christian Encyclopedia. 7
||84,000 adult members, according to the
Identification Survey (ARIS).
||140,000 members: Fredrick Glaysher, a Baha'i who promotes reform
within the faith, states that: "The Bahai administration regularly claims
140,000 US Bahais based
on the widely known existence of actual mailing addresses for
that number, many of whom though never participate in Bahai
activities, being regarded as 'inactive'."
||26,600 "active" adult Baha'is,
according to an imaginative calculation by Glaysher.
Is it possible to extract an accurate value from the available data?
The ARIS estimate of 84,000 adults is based on an extensive telephone survey
of over 50,000 American adults. There are many sources of error in this type of
survey. Some are:
||Any random survey encounters language problems. In this case, the ARIS
survey probably called a few randomly selected telephone numbers that were
owned by recent immigrants from Iran who are Baha'i and are not sufficiently
fluent with English to complete the survey.
||The telephone survey bypassed those Bahai's who do not have a phone line
or cell phone.
||The survey's margin of error is large. In their survey, they only located 20
Baha'i members in their total sample of 50,000 adults. Based upon
such a small number, the 89,000 estimate cannot be a precise value.
||Some people are reluctant to reveal their religious identification to a
stranger over the telephone. Wiccans, other Neopagans, Satanists, etc. often
give false information for safety reasons. This should not be the case in
this survey. American Baha'is do not generally live in fear of physical
attack as do followers of these other religions. We therefore assume that
the ARIS estimate is probably a valid figure of the total number of American
adults who identify themselves as Baha'i.
||The survey was taken in early 2001, and thus its results do not
represent current data.
On a positive note, unlike other estimates cited above, the methodology of this survey is
known. Thus, it represents a possible starting point to estimate the actual
numbers of Baha'i members.
According to a calculator on the
American Research Group web site, the study's margin of error on its
estimate of 84,000 Baha'i adult members is accurate to within 0.44%, 19 times
out of 20. Thus, if the poll were repeated 20 times, with the same number of
adults questioned, a given value would be within 0.44%, for 19 of the 20
repeats. However, this value is only valid if the percentage of Baha'i members
was about 50% of the total adult population. 8,9 The actual
percentage of Baha'i adults is about 0.04%. The margin of error is thus much
larger. We are seeking professional help for an accurate calculation of its
Four out of five of the sources of error listed above
would tend to underestimate the total number of Baha'i adult members. 95,000
might be a better estimate for 2001. If we assume a 2% annual growth rate, then
101,000 might be a good estimate for mid-2004.
However, this estimate includes everyone who identifies themselves as Baha'i.
Some of these are dedicated members; others may have heard about Baha'i beliefs,
considered them to be reasonable, never acted on that thought, and never joined
any religious group. The number of devoted, committed members of the Baha'i
faith is probably much lower than 101,000, perhaps on the order of 60,000.
This is surprisingly close to the harmonic mean of the estimates by the U.S.
Baha'i NSA and reformer Fredrick Glaysher.
Comparing membership data from different faith groups:
It is difficult to compare Baha'i membership numbers with those of other
faith groups. The definition of membership among religious groups varies.
According to Robert Stockman, coordinator of the Research Office of the U.S. Bahá'í National Center:
"The definition of membership is more or less the same since the 1930s; a
person must sign a declaration card stating he/she believes in Baha'u'llah, the
Bab, and `Abdu'l-Baha, and understands there are laws and institutions to obey
(the card does not specify them)."
faith groups use different criteria to define their members, and count:
||Only active members;
||Active and inactive members;
||Anyone who has been
baptized or who joined the faith group in some way;
||Only adults; or
||Adults and children.
Some groups are known to pad their numbers. Others, like the
Christian Science and
Church of Satan do not reveal their membership
Thus, it is not possible to compare the membership numbers of different
religious groups. For example the 682,000 Bahai's and 690,000 new-religionists,
as stated by Encyclopćdia Britannica
cannot be considered equivalent in size. Membership calculations are not made on
a level playing field. 5
"Worldwide Adherents of All Religions by Six Continental Areas,
Mid-2002," Encyclopćdia Britannica
"Baha'i Population Statistics," 1979-APR, at:
"Religion (95A), Age Groups (7A) and Sex (3) for Population, for
Canada, Provinces, Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas 1 and Census
Agglomerations, 1991 and 2001 Censuses - 20% Sample Data," Statistics
Robert Stockman, "Baha'i Growth" (1998) at:
"Religious Adherents in the United States of America, AD 1900-2000,"
Encyclopćdia Britannica Online, at:
"American Religious Identification Survey," CUNY, at:
"Bahai Faith, continued..." Adherents.com, at:
Fredrick Glaysher "The Bahai Faith and religious freedom of
"The margin of error calculator," American Research Group, Inc., at:
"So how come a survey of 1,600 people can tell me what 250 million are
thinking," RobertNiles.com at: http://nilesonline.com/
Copyright © 1996, 1998, 2001, 2003 & 2004 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2004-AUG-18
Author: B.A. Robinson