I’m reminded this morning of a comment that a Catholic friend of mine made to me in the past. When discussing “culture wars” issues (abortion, gay marriage etc) this friend said (at least a couple of times) that “in the end, we will win. Catholics have bigger families. Those who have strong family values have bigger families. Those who don’t, don’t. In a couple of generations we’ll out breed them. If you don’t embrace a culture of life, don’t be surprised when your views don’t survive.” These comments came back to me as I was reading this report from The American online magazine entitled “The Future Will be More Religious and Conservative Than You Think”. What is the author basing this title/conclusion on? Demography my dear boy, demography!
The report starts off with the 2012 Presidential Election (2008 seems just like yesterday – whatever happened to John McCain?) and notes that switching parties is becoming less common and therefore party growth is driven by population growth. So who has the demographic advantage?
“Ruy Teixeira…claims that the growth of the college-educated, secular and Hispanic proportion of the population will soon provide the Democrats with an inbuilt electoral majority…On the other side of the ledger, American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks highlights the role of fertility: ‘Liberals have a big baby problem: They’re not having enough of them, they haven’t for a long time, and their pool of potential new voters is suffering as a result.’ ‘In Seattle,” adds Phillip Longman of the New America Foundation, ‘there are nearly 45 percent more dogs than children. In Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19 percent more kids than dogs.’”
As the demographic numbers stand at the moment, the contest seems pretty even. Republican women and Democratic women have about the same number of children, Democrats are slightly younger, but have an edge when it comes to immigration. (This assumes that immigrants will continue to vote along current ethnic voting lines and that immigration will continue at current levels). However, in the future current trends will have a larger impact on the gap in voter numbers:
“However, Republican fertility is not a dead letter: the GOP has a lead over the Democrats among white women and among younger women at all levels of income and education. If the childbearing gap among women aged 20-40 continues to widen, this will certainly benefit the GOP. But even if Republican women enjoyed a 30 percent fertility advantage for a century, this would only halve the gains accruing to the Democrats from immigration. Were immigration to be cut in half, however, the GOP would quickly begin to close in on the Democrats beyond 2040.”
What is driving this fertility gap is religion. Democrats are generally more secularist and have fewer children than their more religious counterparts in the GOP. What is sometimes called the “second demographic transition” is a fundamentalist religious backlash to the challenge of modernist secularism. While this may not play out along party lines completely, it is likely that socially conservative views will grow more popular – by the end of this century it is predicted that the pro-life majority will be about 75% of the population in the US.
This second demographic transaction is not just a US phenomenon. The report notes the growth of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel since independence. In the Muslim world, women most in favour of sharia law have twice the birth rate of women who are most opposed. While in Europe and the US, the people who self-identify with “no religion” are leading the way to sub-replacement fertility.
“In most of Europe, the nonreligious average around one child per woman. In the United States, they manage 1.5, considerably lower than the national 2.1… Projections I [Eric Kaufmann] recently published with Skirbekk and Goujon in the journal Sociology of Religion show secularism losing momentum and beginning to decline in both Europe and America by 2050, largely because of low fertility and religious immigration.”
The report concludes in a thought-provoking way:
“…we forget that most people get their religion the old-fashioned way: through birth. Demography is not destiny, but it is the most predictable of the social sciences. As the population of the world peaks and begins to decline later in this century, the strongly religious will stand against the tide. In so doing, they will remake societies and wash away many of our certainties about secularization, Enlightenment, and the End of History.”
Many in the West may be currently proclaiming that “God is dead!” but according to this report, I may live to see a time when God rises from the dead…a not unheard of event. Perhaps my friend really was right about the outcome of the current culture wars?