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Over at Econlog Bryan Caplan bets that India’s fertility will be sup-replacement within 20 years. My first inclination was to think that this was a totally easy call for Caplan to make. After all, much of southern India, and the northwest, is already sup-replacement. And then I realized that heterogeneity is a major issue. This is a big problem I see with political and social analysis. Large nations are social aggregations that are not always comparable to smaller nations (e.g., “Sweden has such incredible social metrics compared to the United States”; the appropriate analogy is the European Union as a whole).

So, for example, India obviously went ahead with its demographic transition earlier than Pakistan. But what this masks is that the two largest states in terms of population in India, in the far north, actually resemble Pakistan in demographics, not the rest of India. Uttar Pradesh, with a population 20 million larger than Pakistan, has similar fertility rate as India’s western neighbor. Bihar currently has a slightly higher fertility rate than Pakistan when you look at online sources (though the proportion under 25 is a little lower, indicating that its fertility 10-15 years ago was lower than Pakistan’s, it is simply that Pakistan is now transitioning toward replacement faster than Bihar).

The key for Caplan’s bet is that over time Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will become a larger and larger proportion of India’s population. Though they’ll probably drop in fertility, for the purposes of Caplan’s bet perhaps the better question is whether Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will attain sub-replacement fertility in 2032, not India. That’s a much different question than India as a whole. I think Caplan has an even chance of winning, but it’s not guaranteed.

• Category: Science • Tags: Data Analysis, Demographics, India, Pakistan, Population 
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Recently a “hot story” in the barbaric nation that is Pakistan is that a politician did not know how to recite a prayer properly. An important back story here is that Muslims generally pray in Arabic, but most Muslims are not Arabic language speakers (and in any case, colloquial Arabic is very different from “Classical Arabic” which is derived from the language of the Koran). So deviation from appropriate pronunciation is a major problem for Muslims as a practical matter. And, since the words one recites in ritual prayer are derived from the Koran they are the literal Word of God as transmitted to Muhammad via the angel Gabriel. Proper delivery is of the essence (and for your information, I can still bust out sura Fatiha, thank you very much).

But the major point illustrated by the incident is the importance of public piety in Pakistan. The father of the nation of Pakistan, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, was so Westernized that he had to have mullahs prep him on how to recite lines of the Koran during speeches. He was himself from a heretical Muslim sect (heretical in the eyes of the Sunni majority at least), the Ismailis, and married a woman of Zoroastrian background. Like much of the Pakistani elite today and upper class men of the British Empire during that period Jinnah had a soft spot for various liquors. Pakistan has come a long way from those days, re-branding itself as an extremist nation par excellence. The “moderates” may be the majority, but they are not moved to place themselves between the extremists and their victims.

And this brings me to the USA. How is it like Pakistan? We’ve also have come a long way since the Founding in terms of the respectable “orthodoxy” which we demand of our politicians. A new Pew survey on religion in Congress puts this into stark relief:

Perhaps the greatest disparity between the religious makeup of Congress and the people it represents, however, is in the percentage of the unaffiliated – those who describe their religion as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” According to information gathered by CQ Roll Call and the Pew Forum, no members of Congress say they are unaffiliated. By contrast, about one-sixth of U.S. adults (16%) are not affiliated with any particular faith. Only six members of the 112th Congress (about 1%) do not specify a religious affiliation, which is similar to the percentage of the public that says they don’t know or refuses to specify their faith.

Barack Hussein Obama, a man who believes in evolution more than angels, has to constantly tout his Christian faith. This, during a period of American history witnessing massive increases in secularity. What a change this is! Of the early American presidents the first six were arguably not orthodox Christians, as defined by an acceptance of the Nicene Creed. Andrew Jackson, the first conventional Christian president, refused to set aside a day of prayer, in deference to the strict church-state separation advocated by the Democratic party of the era, and derived from Thomas Jefferson’s position. As for Jefferson himself, he was a man who expressed profound personal skepticism of the religious truth claims of his era, going so far as to bowdlerize the Bible, removing most of the supernatural incidents. He was also associated with the equivalent of New Atheists during the late Enlightenment. Radical anti-clericalists such as Thomas Paine, who he invited to the United States in 1802 during his presidency. Can you imagine an American president admitting friendship with Richard Dawkins today?

But that’s the surface. Like Andrew Sullivan I assume that many non-believers in politics are “in the closet.” But how many? The Pew survey correctly notes that around 16% of Americans are not affiliated with any religion. So if Congress was representative, you’d have 16% unaffiliated. But Congress isn’t representative. I found educational data from the 111th Congress, and calculated like so:

– 64% have graduate degrees

– 30% have undergraduate degrees

– 1% have some college

– 5% are high school graduates

Using the GSS you can see how belief in God and religion affiliation tracks education. Below are the proportions for the total sample and for liberals in the 2000s:

Less Than HS HS Some college College Grad
Atheist 2 2.5 2 3 4
Agnostic 3 4 3 7 9
None 15 15 13 15 18
Less Than HS HS Some college College Grad
Atheist 2 5 4 6 7
Agnostic 7 5 6 17 12
None 16 23 26 32 30

Weighting Congress by education, I get the following values:

Predicated All
Atheist 4
Agnostic 8
None 17
Predicated Liberals
Atheist 7
Agnostic 13
None 30

This is almost certainly an underestimate. Most of the people with graduate educations in Congress have finished a professional degree. They’re lawyers. The “graduate” category in the GSS is a catchall, and is likely not as elite. Additionally, a more fine-grained analysis would take into account the university which individuals graduated from. Elite universities tend to have very secular student bodies. You can also drill-down to a more a fine-grained scale. Over 30% of Jews in the GSS with graduate educations are atheists or agnostics. I am willing to believe that most of the Jews in Congress are not deep believers in HaShem.

What one could really do is create some sort of regression model with demographic inputs which would predict the odds of someone being an atheist or irreligious. The data from Congress is there to input after we’ve see how the independent variables predict the outcome in the general population.

Of course, I agree that it is insane for a politician to come out as an atheist. There is simply no win in this; many people would be turned off, at the gain of few voters. Around half of Americans admit to simply not being willing to vote for an atheist as president.

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In the comments below a strange conversation grew out of the politicized nature of Pakistani identity, and its relationship to India the nation-state, and India the civilization. I assume that a typical reader, or more accurately commenter, on this weblog would be sanguine if they found out they were 10% chimpanzee. After all, it’s what’s between your ears that really matters, not who your ancestors were. I do understand that some readers have strong genealogical-nationalist interests in human population genetics, and that’s fine so long as you don’t presume that the rest of us share such priorities (this is a problem for some commenters, so please be aware that I get annoyed when you project this way, though it’s obviously not a banning offense).

But readers who come via search engines are a different case, and that’s why I’ve started to get worried about over-reading of PCA and such. Nevertheless, I do think PCA can answer the question of whether there is any real genetic discontinuity between Pakistanis and Indians. The answer is no. Page 19 of Reich et al. supplement 1 includes in the HGDP Pakistani populations in their plot of genetic variation of Indian groups. I’ve added some labels, but the top-line is rather clear. AP = Andhara Pradesh, UP = Uttar Pradesh, GUJ = Gujarat and RAJ = Rajasthan. I assume Ind. and Pak. abbreviations are self-evident.


Obviously it isn’t strictly true that Pakistanis are just like Indians. But, Pakistanis are pretty much exactly where you’d expect from their position in relation to India. There is only a small component of recent Persian or Central Asian ancestry, as evident by the relative closeness of Muslim Pakistanis with Hindu groups, who would presumably lack this component. The point of this post isn’t to vindicate or refute a particular political position, it’s to reinforce what’s been pretty clear from genetics over the past generation.

P.S. Just a small warning, if you leave a crazy comment, I’m not going to publish it!

• Category: Science • Tags: Genetics, India, Pakistan 
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Long time readers of this weblog will recognize Zachary Latif. Zachary and I have been having exchanges on various topics on and off since 2002 on the blogs. His early opinionated musings on cultural and historical topics were a definite prod for me to venture out more vigorously into this domain. As a Pakistani Baha’i educated and resident in the West he offered me a window into a very different perspective from what I’d ever encountered before. In particular he challenged me in 2002 when I blithely repeated conventional wisdom about the economic rise of India and the stagnation of Pakistan. He had numbers at his finger tips. I did not.

Since that time it is arguable that Pakistan has become more, not less, important to Americans. How is Pakistan doing? To look into this I decided to use Google Data Explorer, focusing on trend lines comparing the various South Asian nations.

I invite readers to construct more charts. It’s easy enough. I would say that the last 10 years has been mildly on the less encouraging side for Pakistan in relation to its neighbors. Its economic growth has consistently been lower than India’s for years, so the gap in per capita income is growing. Additionally, Pakistan has not gone through a demographic transition yet. Though Bangladesh remains poorer, its fertility is now far lower. The main reason that the population growth numbers are not further apart is that Pakistan has a relatively low adolescent fertility rate, so the generation times are presumably longer. And note the infant mortality numbers, in 1990 Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan were in the same ballpark, but now Pakistan is the standout, and not in a good way.

Of course there are positives too. Pakistan has far more foreign investment than Bangladesh, which is why I log-transformed the scale. And the trend for something like measles immunization is positive, and pushing saturation. Looking at the data the image in the media of Pakistan being a “failed state” seems a bit much, though as Americans our stake in what happens in that nuclear armed nation is great, so even a small probability is of concern (also, I don’t have data past 2008).

But let’s shift to India. And this is what really surprises me: on some social indices India is not doing so well. Why? Look at life expectancy:

Pakistan has maintained its lead, but Bangladesh seems to have switched places with India. The gaps here are small and of no great account to me, the question is why India is not doing better despite impressive economic growth? That is because “India” is many nations, and several of these nations have entered a phase of rapid economic growth and development, and others have not. The total fertility rate of the southern state of Tamil Nadu in 2006 was 1.8, the same as non-Hispanic whites in the United States. For the massive northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which is more populous than either Pakistan or Bangladesh, the total fertility rate was 3.8, only a little below Pakistan’s. India has within it both Bangalore and Bihar, so the aggregate data is masking both the economic dynamism and the outrageous poverty.

Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at"