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The great back-and-forth between Jason Malloy and Bruce G. Charlton led me to wonder if the trend of increased fertility as theistic confidence increases is conscious, or if it is a subconscious and indirect consequence of values and behaviors not explicitly related to a person’s stated ideal family size. BGC suggested that secular women do not just have fewer children than the religious do, but that this stems from a desire to have fewer children to begin with.

From GSS data, I looked at the reported ideal family size* and the actual number of children had, by theistic confidence, among those who had essentially completed their total fertility (age 40-100):

Theistic confidence Desired Actual
Don’t believe 2.26 2.23
No way to find out 2.25 1.95
Some higher power 2.18 1.98
Believe sometimes 2.37 2.34
Believe with doubts 2.34 2.31
Know God exists 2.58 2.64

The more theistic, the greater the number of ideal children for a completed family to contain. It tracks almost identically with the actual number of children given birth to. That’s not too surprising, since people are probably biased towards defining their actual family size as the ideal family size.

What about the nubile and their young nobles who are a decade or more away from finalizing their families? The ideal number of children by level of theistic confidence for those between the ages of 18-30:

Theistic confidence Desired
Don’t believe 2.43
No way to find out 2.23
Some higher power 2.29
Believe sometimes 2.45
Believe with doubts 2.49
Know God exists 2.65

At 47, the sample size for atheists is by far the smallest. Anomalously, two respondents from this cohort report an ideal number of children of six. If these two are removed, the average drops to 2.26, in line with the broader trend.

It looks as though early in life (long before family size is finalized) as theistic confidence increases, so does the perceived number of children a person should have. And across all levels of theistic confidence, people tend to realize those ideals**, with the more theistic slightly overshooting them and the less theistic coming up a little short.

It is not that secular people cannot keep up with religious folks. They simply do not want to. In the numbers game, though, the results are what matter. The question regarding Steve Sailer’s suggestion that the future may belong to groups who are able to procreate the most is whether or not secularizing social trends are able to overcompensate for greater fertility among the religious.

GSS variables used: AGE(40-100), AGE(18-30), GOD, CHLDIDEL (removed “as many as desired”, which is computed as 8), CHILDS

* For the question on the ideal number of children, the “as many as they want” response is filtered out, since it is coded as an 8 (that is, as though giving the response is tantamount to saying that the ideal number of children is eight).

** Incidentally, this increases my confidence in an assertion I made in a previous post that the most determinative factor in the number of offspring a man has is the number of offspring he desires. Except for in relatively rare cases of especially unattractive, socially awkward, or dehibilitated people, other personal attributes are ultimately of minor importance. ‘Quality’ of offspring, of course, is another matter.

(Republished from The Audacious Epigone by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Fecundity, Future, GSS, Religion 
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  1. "Steve Sailer's suggestion that the future may belong to groups who are able to procreate the most is whether secularizing social trends are able to overcompensate for greater fertility among the religious."

    Quite – and the fact that IQ and personality are substantially inherited (plus the possibility of massive population migrations) means that the nature of the population is changing over time.

    So long as religiousness is accepted as having a causal relationship to fertility, then eventually genes will beat culture. If the religious outbreed the secular, eventually society will end up religious – since whatever-it-is that makes people religious will be amplified with each generation.

    Probably we have already experienced this, even if we havent recognized it – since the least religious have been less fertile for a few generations by now – so the population of developed countries has already been relatively enriched by the offspring of more religious people.

    Both nationally and internationally there is probably a similar trend. The most religious are more fertile than the less religious both within-nations and between-nations; and for the main two world religions Moslems are usually more fertile than Christians both within and between nations.

    Since the decline of death rates in the first demographic transition, populations are now mostly affected by birth rates rather than death rates.

    This even applies in the poorest countries in the world – in Farewell to Alms, Greg Clark estimates that modern Malawi has a lower standard of living (fewer calories per day) than any time or place in human history. Yet – with the avaiablility of modern medicine and public health, the population of Malawi is still increasing pretty quickly – nearly 30 percent in the past decade according to Wikipedia!

    So I think Steve Salier is correct – the future belongs to the most fertile groups within nations, and the most fertile nations among nations – unless there is a profound shift in attitude among the elites of the developed world.

    At present I see no sign of any such attitudinal revolution.

  2. This makes sense. Childbirth can be a type of transcendent experience or it can be complete hell, depending on the person's attitude going in.

    If giving birth is hell, will that woman coming out of delivery want to go through it again?

    But if childbirth is a transcendent, religious experience, the idea of a repeat is not so daunting.

  3. I just want to say that I really doubt that Malawi today is poorer or more malnourished than any place in the entire world has been throughout all of recorded history. A hundred years ago, America was sending food aid to Europe, and even that wasn't enough, as millions of people starved to death. And World War II was started by a starving Italy who put faith in Mussolini's promise to bring Italy to agricultural self-sufficiency, a generation of malnourished proto-Nazis who dreamed of the prospect of inflicting on Germany's Jewish population the same sufferings they felt the traitorous Jews had inflicted on them; and Japan, which was undergoing its own famine the causes of which I'm less well educated about. Eastern Europe was no better off than the Axis powers, and probably suffered more actual deaths, thanks to the wonders of collectivist agriculture. China under Mao may have been worse than all of those others. Even America had famines in the 1800's. You can give me Malawi over any of those other famines and I'll be happy.

    Other than that I agree with everything on this page. Sorry for going off on a rant over just one sentence; I guess the point I'm trying to make is that in general I don't think Africa today is going through anything that Europe hasn't been through not too long ago and it bothers me when people make such claims.

  4. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    At this moment in time I believe the most religious among us are the most fertile. However, I'm doubtful that this trend will last forever. And if they want to replace most of the non-believers, it should have to last for many centuries to come.

    What if ethnocentricity/tribalism is heritable or could be increased by culture? Ethnocentric behavior correlates with fertility too.

    The best indicator of ethnocentricity would be the success of nationalist parties in elections. Nationalist parties seem to grow in times of increased anxiety. People seem to feel that in times of anxiety and despair, they group and work together. In most of the world ethnonationalism seems to be making a come-back. (I'm not saying this is a good thing, though, just my personal amoral diagnosis.)

    An interesting case study would be the Netherlands from 1800 to 1960 or so. During these times the country was 'verzuild', divided into religious groups who didn't mingle socially (Calvinists, Protestants, Catholics, etc.) However, these groups battled each other by having high birth rates. There's a reason why there are 16M+ people in such a small country (with quite some emigration as well.)

    Anyway, religiosity is only one out of many, many factors that correlate (positively) with fertility. F.e., high "Time Preference", pro-natalist government policies, fertility techniques all correlate positively; IQ, population density, wealth, birth control, female labour participation, women rights, female education levels, high immigration levels, unhealthy living habits (alcoholism, depression, obesity, stress), high parental investment all correlate negatively.

    There are probably many more factors that we don't know yet. It is for us to find out — and someday we will find out.

  5. Stopped Clock.

    The point Clark is making about Malawi is that nowadays people can live, and reproduce above replacement level, on a daily intake of calories much less than that which would have been fatal before the invention of modern medicine and public health.

  6. BGC,

    You've spurred me into an idea for another post. Thanks! Also, one is in que regarding the relationship between intolerance for irreligiosity and total fertility.


    Gregory Clark should probably add a qualifier to many of his assertions, since the assessments are often based on informed speculation. But the pertinent point is that Malawi, despite its poverty, high infant mortality (nearly one in ten die in infancy), etc, has still obliterated the Malthusian trap–its population is on pace to more than double every half-century. That's a novelty in human history.


    Interesting points. I wonder if there is relatively easy, standardized way to comparatively measure nationalism at the national level.

    Female educational attainment inversely correlates very strongly with fertility. Female labor participation rates do as well, but much less so.

  7. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:


    1) I now see that my post was incomplete and a little bit all over the place.

    What I tried to explain is that tribalism/ethnocentrism is automatically related to xenophobia (not the leftist knee-jerk definition of it, but the possible relation between a certain dislike of the "other" and a preference of your own (group): ingroup-outgroup mentality.)

    The Netherlands during the 1800s to the 1960s were a good example of this. Catholics really believed and acted as if they were an ethnic group of their own, preachers urged young women to marry young, marry with Catholics and to have a lot of children. The relatively high birth rate of Dutch Catholics (from the Southern provinces of the Netherlands) made Protestants feel threatened, because they slowly became a minority. Dutch Orthodox Calvinists ended up having very high birth rates as well — they still do today.

    I think that in multicultural societies similar phenomena will occur over time. Ethnocentrism will trigger some people to have more children. Nationalists represent the most ethnocentic people in a society, so a rise in nationalist parties and voters is a good indicator of increased ethnocentrism in a population.

    I don't think that ethnocentrism and nationalism are related to religion at all, but these phenomena could increase birth rates.

    2) I think ethnocentrism/tribalism could be measurable quite easily.

    There are already tests that measure people's intuitive reaction when they see people from different races/ethnicities. I think Dienekes or GNXP once reported on this.

    Another way to measure tribalism, could be to simply ask people if they prefer their own to a certain regard (in a Likert scale from 1 to 7), in the same way we ask them about their belief in God. In Western nations the results would probably be biased, because we're so PC and ideological these days, but Arabs, Africans or East Asians have no hubbles in that regard and will give their honest opinion.

    3) In conclusion: I think religion is the most important fertility variable, but I doubt it is a sufficient one.

    At GNXP they wrote about RA Fisher who explored the idea of heritability of fertility. This seems right to me, some female bodies are more fertile than others or at least better equipped for 3+ babies. In low fertility countries there could be a strong selection for women like that at the moment.

    Or hell, there may surface some epigenetic phenomenon we don't about yet.

  8. Is it possible to control for educational level? A friend who analyzed some data from another country (on another topic) found that the more highly educated tended to give less extreme answers than the less highly educated. If the higher educated also have fewer kids, this might be what you are picking up.

  9. Ole,

    The GSS allows for filtering. But looking only at those who have more than 15 years of education (a bachelor's and beyond) doesn't change much. The biggest difference is that among the well-educated, those who are certain of God's existence are really ambitious about having children–their average ideal number is 3.27. It looks like that trend doesn't apply in this case.

  10. Hi Audacious Epigoen,

    Cool! Sounds like the effect is (if anything) just as strong controlling for education. Interesting result!

  11. Outland,

    Thanks for expounding. Here's the GNXP post by DavidB you're referring to. Fisher makes the same point BGC does above–birth rates are more important than mortality rates in determining population growth (although there are still countries where more than one in ten infants die).

  12. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:


    I've just checked my idea "xenophobia UP -> ethnocentrism UP -> fertility UP" by searching through some journals.

    It gives me three hits on France, Eskimo's and Israel. The first two, I couldn't access, but the last was possible. And it appears that I'm somewhat right. Israelis feel threatened by their neighbours and therefore part of a common group, this give them, according to the writers, a sense of common purpose.

    Source: "Religiosity, Nationalism and Fertility in Israel" JON ANSON and AVINOAM MEIR.


    "The present paper seeks to re-evaluate explanations for the apparently high level of Jewish
    fertility in Israel. We suggest that previous explanations, based on ethnic origin or religiosity,
    are sociologically incomplete, and substitute well established empirical correlational associations for theoretically grounded explanations. We argue that Israel's high fertility stems, directly, from the form and salience of nationalist sentiments in the Israeli conscience collective, which in turn derives from Israel's special position in the Middle East and in the world-economy. Using voting returns from Israel's proportional vote elections, we classify census statistical areas by religiosity
    and their support for radical nationalist parties. We show that area-level fertility is a function of nationalist support and the area standard of living, and that once these are controlled the effect of religiosity is insignificant. We therefore conclude that the statistical association between fertility and religiosity in Israel is spurious, and that much of the religiosity recorded in fertility surveys is an expression, in consciousness and in the mode of daily living, of a strongly felt nationalist sentiment."

    I think we need to research the link between tribalism and fertility a lot more.

  13. Outland,

    Interesting. I wonder if "market dominant minorities" are consistently more fertile than their kin in the home country. Also, I wonder how well Judaic orthodoxy and nationalistic sentiments proxy for one another in Israel. In the US, Evangelicals are the most nationalistic, followed by mainline Protestants, then Catholics, and then Jews. The level of religiosity among these affiliations follows the same pattern.

  14. Re: Jewish fertility. From Eric Kauffman

    "These ethno-demographic shifts are broadly accepted, and many European and North American elites feel that integration can help to assimilate newcomers into the norms of western societies. In short, the replacement of whites with nonwhites is uncontroversial – at least among western liberal elites. Yet few have considered the equally commonsense notion that a secular population could be replaced by a religious one. In Israel, for instance, fertility rates among the ultra-Orthodox rose from an already staggering 6.49 children per woman in 1980–82 to 7.61 during 1990–96; among other Israeli Jews, it declined from 2.61 to 2.27. All told, the ultra-Orthodox are on track to comprise at least a quarter of the under-17 population by 2025. This change is also occurring, in microcosm, within Jewish Europe. A recent study, 'Jews in Britain', by the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, found that while most British Jews were economically successful and tend to have an older population age structure than their neighbours, Jews in the ultra-Orthodox communities of Hackney and Gateshead, near London, and Salford, near Manchester were both younger and poorer than their British equivalents. In the authors' words, these Jews '…are bucking the demographic trend in a remarkable way. There can be little doubt…that the demographic makeup of British Jewry, and probably also its religious
    structure, will be very different in just a generation or so.' (p. 99) Across Europe, as figure 2 shows, Jews who respond that they are 'religious' report almost twice the number of children as those who consider themselves 'nonreligious' or 'atheists'."

    [Note – the 'ultra-Orthodox' Jewish community in Gateshead mentioned above is not 'near London', but 300 miles north, near Newcastle upon Tyne.]

  15. BGC,

    Heh, sort of like I occasionally have to tell travellers that Kansas City is close to Chicago.

    I'm sold on Kauffman.

  16. From SC's link:

    "But this brings us to the one major exception to the general rule — namely, Orthodox Jews. Not only do the Orthodox suffer many fewer losses from intermarriage, but their fertility rate is far above the Jewish norm. As against the overall average of 1.86 children per Jewish woman, an informed estimate gives figures ranging upward from 3.3 children in "modern Orthodox" families to 6.6 in Haredi or "ultra-Orthodox" families to a whopping 7.9 in families of Hasidim. These numbers are, of course, difficult to pin down definitively, but anecdotal evidence is compelling. In a single year, according to a nurse at one hospital in the Lakewood, New Jersey area serving a right-wing Orthodox population, 1,700 babies were born to 5,500 local families, yielding a rate of 358 births per thousand women. (The overall American rate is 65 births per thousand women.)"

    This is stateside.

  17. What if ethnocentricity/tribalism is heritable or could be increased by culture? Ethnocentric behavior correlates with fertility too.

    The best indicator of ethnocentricity would be the success of nationalist parties in elections.

    I believe culture and religion correlate with ethnocentrism but I am not sure nationalism/tribalism correlates with fertility.

    Modern day Russia, Japan, China, South Korea, and Singapore are patriarchal and ethnocentric-nationalistic but they have low fertility.

    Also, when we discuss fertility rates it is important to remember that Fertility rates in much of Northern Europe and starting in France began falling dramatically following the Napoleonic wars and throughout the 19th Century probably because of the Industrial Revolution and move from an agricultural economy to an industrialized one.

    The 19th Century was of course also the Golden age of Social Darwinism and Nationalism.

    The link between nationalism and fertility seems weak to me although the link between culture, religion with loyalty to one's ethnic group looks good.

  18. Undiscovered,

    Great points. Russia, China, Singapore, Japan, and South Korea are also quite irreligious by international and even US standards.

  19. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    @Undiscovered Jew.

    "Modern day Russia, Japan, China, South Korea, and Singapore are patriarchal and ethnocentric-nationalistic but they have low fertility."

    As a whole, yes, these countries are more ethnocentric and nationalistic than, say, the US or Canada. Completely true. But I'm curious if ethnocentric persons (on an individual level) display relatively higher fertility levels, both in desired ideal family size (child wish) and realised family size (TFR/CFR). I think they do.

    It could be relatievely low, compared to an international audience, if we would compare this with Muslims or Nigerians. I'm sure. But consider it this way, what if ethnocentric Russians and/or Chinese want 2 or 3 children while their non-ethnocentric countrymen want 1 or 2? That could mean something.

    Of course, we should first identify what sort of thing makes someone ethnocentric/ tribalist. I don't know. But I'm pretty sure that there's a link somewhere.

    2) Although ethnocentrism is possibly positively correlated with fertility (at least I suspect this very much), patriarchy in a modern Western culture is actuallY negatively correlated with fertility.

    This has been one of the most important insights demographers have come up with the past few decades. Patriarchy emphasizes gender roles and this means low fertility in practice. Most households nowadays need two people making money to be able to afford children and a nice comfortable life.

  20. Of course, we should first identify what sort of thing makes someone ethnocentric/ tribalist.

    I was actually discussing whether there is an instinct for racial loyalty on another blog.

    My educated guess, for white's at least, is that loyalty to one's ethnic group exists most strongly when operating in conjunction with other VERY complex social/cultural factors such as linguistics, shared history, geography, extended family culture, sex relations, religion, political values, etc.

    And even then, there isn't much of a loyalty to one's overall race, but instead to one's immediate ethnic group.

    This is why there has never been a single European nation in history (The EU is not a nation, though it is trying to be).

    There has never really been an influential "white nationalism", only Russian, Spanish, Italian, French, etc, nationalisms.

    The historical nationalist movements of Europe centered around white SUB-ethnic/cultural groups, and never towards a single white identity that had any real political power.

    When traditional cultural and religous values breakdown the instinct for ethnic loyalty probably breaksdown because people don't have a unifying cultural theme to psychologicaly identify with.

    So, people with strong religous values in America are probably more likely to identify with European civilization.

    However, high IQ whites are more likely to be atheist and not as culturally wedded to traditional ideas about sex relations, family relations, that lower IQ religous whites do, and so have lost confidence in European civilization.

    In order to reach high IQ whites, we can't rely on appealing to weak ethnic loyalty instinct because they have little CULTURAL confidence in white civilization. We need to appeal to high IQ white's own naked social self interest by explaining to them the science of HBD, economic issues associated with diversity, crime rates, etc.

    The one white group that does have a decent Northern European IQ AND religous/cultural confidence in Europe are the Mormons, and I wonder if they have both good IQs COMBINED with confidence in European civilization and are less likely to approve of immigration and interracial marriage and so on.

  21. UJ,

    There is a GSS variable I am currently looking at that relates to your post.

    This is why there has never been a single European nation in history (The EU is not a nation, though it is trying to be).

    The Crusading period, from the end of the 11th Century to the beginning of the 14th probably comes closest. There was a unifying external threat and there were responses from just about everywhere in Christian Europe except for Spain. But the establishment of the European-led kingdom of Jerusalem in the Levant was primarily a French effort. Even Richard I was French (he just happened to be born in and become king of England).

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