October 23, 2006


America at 300 Million: Reluctant to Reproduce (MARK STEYN, October 23, 2006, NY Sun)

[E]ven if you haven't got a book to plug, the arrival of Junior 300 Mil is something everyone should celebrate.

So why don't we? The answer is that too many people who should know better are still peddling the same old 40-year-old guff about "overpopulation." What does Professor Myers mean by "quality-of-life degradation?" America is the 172nd least densely populated country on earth. If you think it's crowded here, try living in the Netherlands or Belgium, which have, respectively, 392 and 341 inhabitants per square kilometer compared to 31 folks per square kilometer in the US. To be sure, somewhere such as, say, Newark, New Jersey is a lot less bucolic than it was in 1798. But why is that? No doubt Professor Myers would say it's urban sprawl. But that's the point: you can only sprawl if you've got plenty of space. As the British writer Adam Nicholson once wrote of America, "There is too much room in the vast continental spaces of the country for a great deal of care to be taken with the immediate details." Nothing sprawls in Belgium: it's a phenomenon that arises not from population pressures but the lack thereof.

As for other degradations the weight of which is so crushing to Professor Myers, name some. America is one of the most affordable property markets in the western world. I was amazed to discover, back in the first summer of the Bush Presidency, that a three-bedroom air-conditioned house in Crawford, Texas could be yours for 30,000 bucks and, if that sounds a bit steep, a double-wide on a couple of acres would set you back about 6,000. And not just because Bush lives next door and serves as a kind of one-man psychological gated community keeping the NPR latte-sippers from moving in and ruining the neighborhood. The United States is about the cheapest developed country in which to get a nice home with a big yard and raise a family. That's one of the reasons why America, almost alone among western nations, has a healthy fertility rate.

Everywhere else, for the most part, they've taken the advice of Professor Myers and that think-tank in Vermont. In America, there are 2.1 live births per woman. In 17 European countries, it's 1.3 or below — that's what demographers call "lowest-low" fertility, a rate from which no society has ever recovered. Spain's population is halving with every generation. These nations are doing what Professor Myers and the Vermont "sustainability" junkies would regard as the socially responsible thing, and having fewer babies. And as a result their countries are dying demographically and (more immediately) economically: they don't have enough young people to pay for the generous social programs the ever more geriatric Europeans have come to expect.

Breeding for God: 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, Prospect)
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.

In a series of controversial articles, Phillip Longman of the New America Foundation has drawn attention to the political ramifications of religious demography in the US, pointing to the sizeable fertility advantage enjoyed by more religious "red" states over the Democratic "blue" states. As Arthur Brooks of Syracuse University recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids. That's a 'fertility gap' of 41 per cent. Given that about 80 per cent of people with an identifiable party preference grow up to vote the same way as their parents, this gap translates into lots more little Republicans than little Democrats to vote in future elections." Many liberals challenge this logic. Surely many of the children of the religious in the US will become secular, as they have in western Europe for generations. In Europe, religion counts for less in elections than it ever has, and Catholic Europeans from Dublin to Barcelona are still embracing secularism with gusto. Even in the US, there has been an appreciable growth in the "no religion" population over the past decade to 14 per cent. Seizing upon this evidence, Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, two leading political scientists, advance the argument that the world is still heading in a more secular direction. They accept that the reverse is occurring in the short term, but claim that modernisation will result in increased wealth and security in the developing world, lowering religiosity and fertility. Secularism will eventually trump religious fertility.

They have a point. Phillip Longman is correct to identify religious fertility as important, but has neglected the "apostasy" side of the equation. If fertility is always the main mechanism of social change, we would expect much higher populations of Amish, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses and other sects with very high fertility. Yet we know that these sects suffer high "defection" rates—even the Mormons lose a higher percentage of their children than most American denominations. A religious population is more porous than an ethnic population, because conversion or abandonment of the faith can take place rapidly and easily. And as long as the rate of abandonment is high enough to compensate for the religious fertility advantage, there is no threat to secularism. European data show that the religious have had a demographic advantage over their secular counterparts for several generations, but also that this advantage has been balanced out by the secularisation of many of the children of Europe's faithful. Bearing this in mind, I developed a more nuanced model of religious change that accounts for both religious fertility and abandonment of faith in Europe.

I found that the classical secularisation trend does not work as it used to. The case of the US sheds some light on this. Much of the 20th-century growth of conservative Protestant denominations could have been lost to secularism or to more liberal, higher status sects like the Episcopalians, as conservative Protestants became better educated, wealthier and more urban. What impeded such an "assimilation" of conservative Protestants into more liberal theologies was a disruption of the pattern linking social and religious mobility. Conservative Protestants, once content to be led by an urbane liberal-Protestant elite, became increasingly conscious of their group identity. They began to reject the leadership of liberal Protestants, starting in the 1920s with their secession from the Federal Council of Churches. This intensified after 1970 with the so-called "culture wars." Liberal theologies and secularism came to be typecast as the malign "other" against which true Christians should mobilise. As evangelicals gained in self-consciousness, they increasingly erected communal boundaries—such as their own media—which could bind the generations regardless of education or wealth.

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. But if western Europe really is the trend-setter for secularism, there is a problem: secularisation appears to be losing force in its own backyard. Western Europe can broadly be divided in two. On the one hand are Catholic countries like Spain or Ireland, where religiosity is still high—around 60 per cent of the Irish population regularly attend church—and secularisation arrived only in the second half of the 20th century. On the other are the largely Protestant nations (including Britain) and Catholic France, which secularised earlier. But survey data from 1981-2004 show that in these latter nations, on average, postwar generations are no longer becoming more secular. 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 in the secular cutting-edge societies of France and Protestant Europe. The population balance in these countries stands at roughly 53 per cent non-religious to 47 per cent religious. My projections, based on demographic differences between the populations and current patterns of religious abandonment, suggest that the secular population will continue to grow at a decelerating rate for three or four more decades, to peak at around 55 per cent. The proportion of secular people will then begin to decline between 2035 and 2045. The momentum behind secularisation in the most secular countries is a reflection of the religious abandonment of the pre-1945 generations, which overwhelmed the fertility advantage of the faithful. The end of apostasy in more recent generations means a population more religious at the end of the 21st century than at its beginning. As in the case of the Mormons or early Christians, demography rather than mass conversion will be the main agent of change.

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.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 23, 2006 8:36 AM

"E]ven if you haven't got a book to plug, the arrival of Junior 300 Mil is something everyone should celebrate. So why don't we?"

Mark Steyn should ask the nativist right that question. Especially the odious freak John Tanton.

Posted by: Brad S at October 23, 2006 8:52 AM

Sometimes we lose sight of the point. The left isn't about we, the people succeeding, buying property and living in freedom. That's anathema to them. In order for their side to win, people need to be dependent and the live in fear and trembling looking to them for what little of the earth's bounty can be spared for their barest subsistence.

That ain't gonna happen here, so the prof and his friends face a sour and disappointed life, but heck, I can live with that.

Posted by: erp at October 23, 2006 8:54 AM

Funny how the same people who go on about "over-population" are the same ones who demand we all live packed into cities and use gov't supplied mass-transit systems. I guess what they want are "degraded" 19th century style New Yorks, but only a few of them.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 23, 2006 9:39 AM

They want it because it's gritty, it's life and the rest of the country is too sterile.

Posted by: Sandy P at October 23, 2006 12:11 PM

I'm certain the good professor will soon travel to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran et al and lecture them earnestly on their terrible mistake of having so many children.

He could compare their birthrate to the US and tell them precisely how many times worse they are, then stand still to see what they do to reduce earth's overpopulation.

Posted by: ras at October 23, 2006 12:59 PM

They want it because it's gritty, it's life and the rest of the country is too sterile.

And cuz cocoons require a critical mass without which reality can intrude directly into life.

Posted by: ras at October 23, 2006 1:04 PM

The Kaufmann article runs out that old "minority-majority" line one more time. It is very hard to see to see the point of this, unless we buy into 19th Century Racist thought. Back then race and culture were thought to be interchangable. Races were identified as "culture-creating," "culture-bearing" and "culture destroying."

That model does not seem to be applicable to the Unitd States. Our immigrants have a record of "becoming white" in a matter of a couple of generations.

To see this all one needs to do is to visit the perspective of a Polish-American or an Italian-American. Time was when we were among the alien hordes, but now we get lumped in with the Mayflower set when the White people get counted.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 24, 2006 5:53 AM
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