Thursday, October 19, 2006

Breeding for God

This long essay by Eric Kaufmann is the cover story on the latest issue of Prospect. Here are some highlights. When it disappears I'll post the whole thing.

In Europe, the fertility advantage of the religious over non-believers has historically been counterbalanced by the march of secularisation. Not any more. Secularisation in Europe is now in decline, and Islam continues to grow. Europe will start to adopt a more American model of modernity.

Eric Kaufmann is a senior lecturer in politics at Birkbeck and the author of "The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America"

Religion and fertility - the Godly have more offspring

In his remarkable book The Rise of Christianity, the American sociologist of religion Rodney Stark explains how an obscure sect with just 40 converts in the year 30AD became the official religion of the Roman empire by 300. The standard answer to this question is that the emperor Constantine had a vision which led to his conversion and an embrace of Christianity. Stark demonstrates the flaws in this "great man" portrait of history. Christianity, he says, expanded at the dramatic rate of 40 per cent a decade for over two centuries, and this upsurge was only partly the result of its appeal to the wider population of Hellenistic pagans. Christian demography was just as important. Unlike the pagans, Christians cared for their sick during plagues rather than abandoning them, which sharply lowered mortality. In contrast to the "macho" ethos of pagans, Christians emphasised male fidelity and marriage, which attracted a higher percentage of female converts, who in turn raised more Christian children. Moreover, adds Stark, Christians had a higher fertility rate than pagans, yielding even greater demographic advantage.

Some of the sources which Stark draws upon are open to question. What is not contestable is that many latter-day religious groups have thrived thanks to high fertility. The Mormons, for example, like Stark's early Christians, have maintained a 40 per cent per decade population growth rate for 100 years. They remain 70 per cent of Utah's population in the teeth of substantial non-Mormon immigration, and have even expanded into neighbouring states. In the 1980s, the Mormon fertility rate was around three times that of American Jews. Today the Mormons, once a fringe sect, outnumber Jews among Americans under the age of 45.

Demography is also critical to explaining the rise of the religious right in America. An important recent article in the American Journal of Sociology by Michael Hout, Andrew Greeley and Melissa Wilde examines trends in American religious denominational growth in the 20th century. The authors find that conservative Protestant denominations increased their share of all white Protestants from one third among those born in 1900 to two thirds for those born in 1975. Three quarters of the growth of white conservative Protestant denominations is demographic, since they have maintained a fertility advantage over more liberal denominations for many decades. As with the rise of Christianity itself, slow-moving sociological pressures created the conditions for a political "tipping point" to occur. This time, Republican strategists played the role of Constantine's advisers, who saw which way the wind was blowing and moved to exploit the new social trends.

Outside the US, there is further evidence for this thesis. In Israel, the growth of the ultra-Orthodox proportion of the Jewish population is all but assured because of their threefold fertility advantage over secular Jews. Elsewhere in the middle east, the relative decline of Arab Christians—especially in their Lebanese heartland—has nothing to do with conversion and everything to do with demography.

The share of the world's population that is religious is growing, after nearly a century of modest decline. This effect has been produced by the younger generations in the developing world rejecting secularisation, combined with higher religious fertility levels. Throughout the world, the religious tend to have more children, irrespective of age, education or wealth. "Secular" Europe is no exception. In an analysis of European data from ten west European countries in the period 1981-2004 I found that next to age and marital status, a woman's religiosity was the strongest predictor of her number of offspring. Many other studies have found a similar relationship, and a whole school of thought in demography—"second demographic transition theory"—suggests that fertility differences in developed countries are underpinned by value differences, with secular men and women unwilling to sacrifice career and lifestyle aspirations to have children and have them early.

But the whole of the West, or 'Christendom', was once Godly. Their children - my generation - stopped following. Why shouldn't that continue ?

The value changes of 1960s America proved a high-water mark of cultural mobility that has been replaced by a cold war of value stasis. The pool of unselfconscious or moderately religious people is on the wane as the "extremes" of fundamental religiosity and secularism grow. When battle lines become firmly drawn, potential converts, like floating voters, dry up. A similar process seems to be occurring in Europe—as the religious become increasingly self-conscious of their unusual identity in a secular society, they become more resistant to secularisation.

Europe—especially western Europe—is seen as the world leader in secular modernisation, and is used as the model by Norris and Inglehart for their theory of secularisation ... it seems as though western Europe, with the possible exception of Italy, will converge towards a church attendance rate of little more than 5 per cent. However this will mask a much larger proportion—around half—who continue to describe themselves as religious and affiliate with a religious denomination.

These people, described by Grace Davie as "believing without belonging," are seen by some as carriers of a flimsy faith which will soon disappear, and which doesn't affect behaviour or attitudes. But if this is the case, how do we explain the fact that the fertility of these non-attending believers is much closer to church attenders than to non-believers? The non-attending religious are also significantly more likely than non-believers to identify themselves as ideologically conservative, even when controlling for education, wealth, age and generation. And the religious population has two demographic advantages over its non-believing counterpart. First, it maintains a 15-20 per cent fertility lead over the non-religious. Second, religious people in the childbearing 18-45 age range are disproportionately female. Offset against this is the much younger age structure of secularists.

The pivotal question is where the balance lies between religious fertility and religious abandonment ...

He predicts a more religioous Europe at the end of the centiry than at its beginning. It could certainly hardly be less religious.

This slow shift against secularisation would have only a gradual impact on the spirit of European society were it not for immigration. Immigration from Latin America has enabled American Catholics to grow despite losing far more believers to other denominations than they get in return. In Europe, immigration will similarly drive the rise of the religious population, especially its Islamic part.

In the US, we know that the population will be less than 50 per cent non-Hispanic white by 2050, but it is difficult to predict what proportion of Europe's population will be of non-European descent in the future because few European countries collect census data on ethnicity and religion. The occasionally cited figure of 30 per cent ethnic minorities in western Europe by 2050 is little more than an educated guess. One of the few countries to collect ethnoreligious census information is Austria, where a recent projection—based on a conservative estimate of 20,000 immigrants a year and various assumptions about religious abandonment and fertility—predicted that Muslims would make up between 14 and 26 per cent of the population in 2050, up from 4 per cent today.

Muslim secularisation would certainly alter this picture and forms a cornerstone of the Norris-Inglehart thesis. But a glance at the surveys of ethnic minorities in Europe reveals little evidence of this. In Britain, second-generation Afro-Caribbeans and eastern European Christians tend to be less religious than their parents but more so than the wider population. Yet there is virtually no change at all in the religiosity of Bangladeshi and Pakistani Muslims between the first and second generations. A recent study of Dutch ethnic minorities paints a similar picture of religious retention among Muslim groups.

Well, there is the small matter that the mandated punishment for apostasy is death for Muslims. For Christians, the Inquisition and the British martyrs are a part of history.

The future response of Europe's lapsed Christian population to the growth of European Islam is difficult to gauge. Muslim growth may prompt a more strident secular nationalist response, as it seems to have done in France and Holland, or it may lead to a renewed emphasis on Christian identity (see the recent speeches of Pope Benedict). David Voas and Steve Bruce have found evidence for the latter in the 2001 British census, where the proportion of white British respondents describing themselves as Christian (rather than "no religion") was higher in districts with large Muslim populations. Christian identity does not equate to growing religious belief, but it eventually might. In ethnically divided Northern Ireland, sectarian conflict fuels far higher religiosity than in other parts of Britain. In either case, the combination of a fast-growing Muslim community and a stable or slowly growing Christian population will squeeze the non-religious, causing a major reversal of the secularising trends of the past 50 to 100 years.

So - a more religious Europe. Probably.

Much will depend on whether conservative political parties opt for a multi-ethnic religious platform or instead mobilise a white nationalist majority across the secular/religious divide. The religious path is currently viewed as the more acceptable one. For the past 20 years, the Republicans have tried to unite whites and non-whites under the banner of religious conservatism and traditional values. Notwithstanding the current illegal immigration furore in the US, the party elite will almost certainly continue with this agenda. Many European conservatives will advocate a similar strategy as the only acceptable face of cultural conservatism in an increasingly multicultural society.

Demographic currents are carrying Europe towards a more American model of modernity.

He ends with a half-comment, half-warning. If rational individualism is so damn wonderful, why aren't rational individualists having children ?

Taking a step back from the figures reveals how the revival of religiosity in the west in the 21st century may reconfigure the Enlightenment belief in rational individualism. Thus far, liberal optimism has soundly defeated the naysayers. Marx's warning of cataclysmic economic contradictions between capital and labour proved as wide of the mark as Daniel Bell's fears a century later of the cultural contradiction between workplace discipline and consumer hedonism. Even rising crime rates and the breakdown of the traditional family do not threaten the liberal order. Francis Fukuyama's "end of history," in which liberal democracy and capitalism prevail, is premised on the superiority of western military technology, which enables individualistic societies to inoculate themselves against the challenge from more cohesive "barbarian" ones. Fukuyama is right. We may suffer terrorism, but terrorists cannot destroy our complex societies. Yet all this assumes the demographic sustainability of liberal capitalism. If Fukuyama's "last men" cannot replace themselves, they will be succeeded by those with a more traditional outlook.

Read the whole thing.


Dave said...

Yes its absolutely inevitable that the morally bankrupt 'liberals' will die out and pretty fast at that judging by the collapse in birth-rates.

Do the liberals know this and is that why they agressively promote abortion to various other groups?

There was a programme on not long ago about 14 year old girls in Wales intentionally getting pregnant just because they wanted to... some would say its so they can play the welfare state, but turns out their mothers also had children very young..
Ofcourse the social services think its because of poverty, but maybe they just have a greater motherly instinct than most?
The 14 year olds were keeping the pregnancies secret because they were affaid of people presuring them into having abortions.. really says something about the fascist left.

Once the country becomes more religous and abortion is not treated so 'normal' this will surely have a big effect on the non-religious too.

I read:

He suggests when genetic engineering becomes availible, parents will mostly choose more feminine girl babies and more masculine boys. which will then lead to a massive population explosion in the later generations.
Sounds plausible to me.

Voyager said...

It is worth noting the difference between "churched" and "non-churched" Christians.

The Churches have driven away middle-aged males especially by their rather soporific and effete preaching and inadequate is not worth spending all day trying to run an enterprise to spend Sundays listening to someone so incompetent that you would not hire him as the tea-boy

Martin said...


I agree that the problem is breeding - however in the UK it's breeding of a different sort.

The UK's collapse was a consequence of the class system, nothing to do with religion. When the upper classes stopped going to church and having babies, the lower classes merely did as they had always done and imitated the behaviour of their betters.

Perhaps the poor old, hated old class system might help us out of the woods yet - before every housing scheme from Wick to Truro turns into a reservation.