Estimating just how many pedophiles there are in the world is just that: An estimate. As with most mental health issues, it is extremely difficult to determine how many people have any given condition with exact numbers. However, we do have other numbers about sexual abuse that can allow us to come up with a general idea of the frequency in which pedophiles sexually abuse children. As a reminder, a pedophile is someone with pedophilia, and this site will always differentiate between someone who has sexually abused a child and someone who has attractions to them.
Coming up with this general idea means a fair amount of math and a fair amount of statistics that must be reviewed. Current estimates put the world’s population at 7.4 billion people. Globally, this divides to 1.01 males to 1 female, and 73.6% of the population is 15 years old or older. Remember that pedophilia is generally not diagnosed in teens younger than 16, though it is possible. If we plug those numbers, we come up with 37.22% of the world’s population who are males, aged 15 or older.
Our current estimates from the best researcher of pedophilia in the field, Michael Seto, indicate that pedophilia affects less than 5% of the male population and less than 4% of the female population. The DSM-V indicates that the highest prevalence for pedophilia in male population is 3-5%. As such, about 1.12-1.86% of the world’s population are pedophiles, though for minor attraction as a whole, this base number is likely bigger.
These percentages are a nice rough estimate for the number of pedophiles in the world, and considering that less women have pedophilia than men, and that the clear majority of sexual abusers are men, we can use these base numbers with a fair amount of certainty, though not without skepticism.
Thus far, we have not yet discussed sex offenders and sexual abusers. According to the National Center for Missing And Exploited Children, .262% of the population are sex offenders. We know that juveniles are the victims of approximately 66% of sex offenses, which means we can estimate that 66% of sex offenders have crimes against juveniles, or .17292% of the population. Compared to our conservative and liberal estimates of the number of pedophiles, this is not a significant number at first glance.
We also know from the research that roughly a third of sexual abusers are pedophilic, which means that we would not expect all .17292% of the population that commit sex crimes against juveniles to be pedophilic. We would only expect .05764% of the population to be pedophilic child sexual offenders. So, we can take the number of people with sex crimes who are pedophilic, and compare it to the total number of people with pedophilia to come up with a rough percentage of how many pedophiles we would currently expect to molest children.
Conservatively, this means that around 5.2% of pedophiles molest children, and liberally, 3% of pedophiles molest children, without accounting for underreporting. Some estimates put the reporting rate around 40%, which means a realistic factor to multiply by would be closer to 1.6-1.8.
In other words, after accounting for underreporting, you see that 4.8-9.36% of pedophiles do molest children. Conversely, this means that 90.64-96.2% of pedophiles do not molest children, even after underreporting is accounted for.
While these numbers are obviously an illustrative estimate and have multiple methodological errors, such as not differentiating between image-based child sex offenses and contact sex offenses, it is reasonable to conclude from this exercise that the majority of the world’s pedophiles and minor attracted people do not molest children.
[ 1] Wikipedia: World Population
[ 2] Wikipedia: World Population: Global Demographics
[ 6] Map of Registered Sex Offenders in the United States, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
[ 7] Characteristics of Crimes Against Juveniles, Finkelhor and Shattuck, 2012, p. 2
Seto, Michael C., James M. Cantor, and Ray Blanchard. “Child Pornography Offenses Are a Valid Diagnostic Indicator of Pedophilia.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 115, no. 3 (2006): 610–15. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-843X.115.3.610.
“On Solid Ground: Tackling Sexual Violence against Children in the Netherlands.” National Rapportur on Trafficking in Human Beings, 2014. https://www.dutchrapporteur.nl/Publications/OnsolidgroundTacklingsexualviolenceagainstchildrenintheNetherlands/index.aspx.
Kesicky, D., I. Andre, and M. Kesicka. “EPA-0284 – Pedophiles and (or) Child Molesters.” European Psychiatry 29 (2014): 1. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0924-9338(14)77731-4.
Lanning, Kenneth V. “Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis.” National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Federal Bureau of Investigation, December 1992.