Sunday, July 22, 2012

How many Buddhists in greater Houston?

The Buddhist blogosphere (e.g., here, and here) is all a-buzz with the results of this recent Pew Forum study, which revises upward (in fact, almost doubles) previous estimates of Buddhism prevalence in the United States.  According to that study, between three and four million people nationwide declare themselves to be Buddhist.

It raises the obvious question:  Given this new information, how many Buddhists are there in greater Houston?
Small statue on the grounds of Chua Phap Nguyen / Dharma Spring Temple, Pearland, TX.
An estimate can be derived in a couple of different ways.  First, a straight percentage calculation can be done using the population for "greater Houston" (which is defined by the U.S. Census as an "urbanized area").
Yikes, that's hard to read. 
Go to this link if you'd like legible information.
The July 2011 total population estimate for greater Houston is 6.08 million persons.  Taking the Pew population prevalence at face value (between 1% and 1.3%) yields somewhere between about 60,000 and 80,000 local Buddhists.
Growing, growing, and growing, Buddhist or otherwise. 
Total area population graph from this economic development source
It would be interesting to further refine (or at least corroborate) that number with an estimate based on the local population composition itself, rather than by simply applying national statistics.  Here, it's easy to get confounded by statistics that pertain to "Houston" (the City of) and "greater Houston" (the metropolitan area).  According to the 2010 Census racial statistics for the City of Houston, 6.4% of the population is Asian.  Extrapolating this regionally and coupling it with the Pew estimate that 14% of Asian Americans are Buddhists yields a local population of about 54,000 just from the membership contributions of Asians alone.  Pew Forum also noted that roughtly one third of American Buddhists are not Asian.  Assuming this same ratio holds true locally, the total number would then be estimated at roughly 82,000 local Buddhists, which is in line with the general estimates given above.  However, this estimate may be a little inflated, because greater Houston's Asian population is a bit larger than the 5% national average

The Pew study also reveals that Vietnamese identification with Buddhism is particularly strong, and is, in fact, the only measured Asian nationality for which Buddhism dominates.
Screengrabbed from here.
Well-known Houston blogger Tory Gattis has described the recent substantial migration of Vietnamese Americans to the greater Houston area, building on descriptions published by the Los Angeles Times and other sources.  Tory estimated that there were 85,000 Vietnamese Americans in Houston as of 2006, but also referenced a HAIF thread which estimated 160,000 - 180,000 within the greater Houston area.  Census numbers can be difficult to tease apart, but this blog article estimated 104,000 Vietamese Americans in the Houston area as of 2010.  Taking that number, which is the middling estimate, and coupling it with the Pew percentage, would yield approximately 45,000 local Vietnamese American Buddhists alone.

To the approximately 70,000 local Buddhists out there, I say hello and welcome.

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