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Estimates of the Baha'i membership

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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:

bullet1.8 million in Africa
bullet3.6 million in Asia
bullet0.13 million in Europe
bullet0.91 in Latin America
bullet0.81 in Northern America
bullet0.12 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 1979. 2

The Canadian census found 14,730 in Canada in 1991 and 18,020 in 2001. 3

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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.

bullet1900: 2,800 members, according to The Encyclopedia Britannica 5
bullet1970: 138,800 members, according to The Encyclopedia Britannica 5
bullet600,000 members, according to The Encyclopedia Britannica 5
bullet28,000 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
bullet1995: 682,000 members, according to The Encyclopedia Britannica 5
bullet1998: 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
bullet753,000 members, according to The Encyclopedia Britannica 5
bullet785,262 members, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia. 7
bullet84,000 adult members, according to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). 6
bullet140,000 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'." 8
bullet26,600 "active" adult Baha'is, according to an imaginative calculation by Glaysher.

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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:

bulletAny 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.
bulletThe telephone survey bypassed those Bahai's who do not have a phone line or cell phone.
bulletThe 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.
bulletSome 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.
bulletThe 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 value.

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.

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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)." 4 Other faith groups use different criteria to define their members, and count:

bulletOnly active members;
bulletActive and inactive members;
bulletAnyone who has been baptized or who joined the faith group in some way;
bulletOnly adults; or
bulletAdults and children.

Some groups are known to pad their numbers. Others, like the Christian Science and Church of Satan do not reveal their membership totals.

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

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References used:

  1. "Worldwide Adherents of All Religions by Six Continental Areas, Mid-2002," Encyclopćdia Britannica Online, at: http://www.britannica.com/
  2. "Baha'i Population Statistics," 1979-APR, at: http://www.h-net.org/
  3. "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 Canada, at: http://www12.statcan.ca/
  4. Robert Stockman, "Baha'i Growth" (1998) at: http://bahai-library.com/
  5. "Religious Adherents in the United States of America, AD 1900-2000," Encyclopćdia Britannica Online, at: http://www.britannica.com/
  6. "American Religious Identification Survey," CUNY, at: http://www.gc.cuny.edu/
  7. "Bahai Faith, continued..." Adherents.com, at: http://www.adherents.com/
  8. Fredrick Glaysher "The Bahai Faith and religious freedom of conscience," at: http://www.fglaysher.com/
  9. "The margin of error calculator," American Research Group, Inc., at: http://www.americanresearchgroup.com/
  10. "So how come a survey of 1,600 people can tell me what 250 million are thinking," RobertNiles.com at: http://nilesonline.com/

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Copyright © 1996, 1998, 2001, 2003 & 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2004-AUG-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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