Clearly, a religion gets its members from one of two places: they are born into it, or they convert from some other belief system.
One of the first reactions I got when I first floated my thesis that the religious landscape in the US was about to be reshaped by dramatic differences in fertility between conservative Christians, liberal Christians and strictly secular Americans was: "It's pretty pathetic to give up on converts and decide you're just going to get new members by having lots of children and indoctrinating them. Having more than two children violates our stewardship of the planet, and I believe liberalism will continue to win converts."
Well, first of all, I'm not necessarily suggesting anything. This whole line of thinking is much more along the lines of an observation than a suggested course of action. There are a few parts of the world where fertility is being used as a political pressure tactic (Palestinians in the the occupied territories give awards to women who have more than ten children) but in general the number of children people have simply reflects their values, hopes, beliefs and aspirations. Some people feel the call to have a large number of children. Others feel like children get in the way of a lifelong honeymoon. Most fall in the middle and want a child or two, but not enough to be totally overwhelming. (Heck some days I feel pretty overwhelmed by just two children.)
Here's why this is something that has been on my mind for the last several years, and why I finally made it the overall theme of this blog in order to try to sort all this thinking out, with the help of anyone who cares to comment.
For the one of the first times in recorded human history, we are at a point where birth rates are uniformly falling across the globe, not because we're out of land, not because we're out of food, not because we're out of resources, but rather because we have plenty of all of these. The countries with the lowest fertility are the richest countries, while poorer nations are gradually following their lead, as they get richer. In other words, the reason why population growth is slowing world wide and already negative in most developed nations is quite simply that most people don't want more children.
Now, why is that? And how, if at all, will this change the cultural and intellectual trends that we've seen play out over the last couple centuries?
One very obvious thing that a lot of people have commented on is that the US will be Hispanic and Europe will be Islamic. (Though note, US Hispanics and European Muslims are both experiencing falling fertility rates, they just haven't fallen as far as "white" fertility rates yet.)
Anecdotally (and in the few studies that are available, more on that in upcoming posts) one of the major factors in how many children someone has seems to be religiosity. Catholics in particular and those with more traditional religious beliefs in general have more children (on average) than less religious or overtly secular people.
This brings up two obvious questions:
1) What, if anything, does higher fertility among religious people tell us about their beliefs.
2) Will this higher fertility among religious people have the effect of making the population more conservative and more religious over time?
Key to that second question is the sub-question: How closely will the children of the religious population cleave to their parents beliefs?
More to come...
“Go On”: Interview with Jack Baumgartner, Part III
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