The Corner

Faith, Demography, and Liquor

Stanley, Andrew:  I have a vague recollection, that I cannot place (any help from readers?) of an Arabic-speaking traveler among the medieval Slavs commenting on their fondness for drink.

As to the meme, currently so popular among conservatives, that Europe’s demographic problems result from rising secularity, I am deeply skeptical.  History offers too many counterexamples.  What about China, where belief in God was rare?  Under Mao, it was actually a capital offense!–yet the Mao-era Chinese bred so enthusiastically that the post-Mao rulers had to impose a one-child policy.  What about early-Victorian England, where observers were pretty much agreed that religion was on the point of dying out?  Mayhew famously said that the gospel of Christ was as unknown in the London slums as it was in Tibet…, and the upper classes, according to A.N. Wilson, were no better.  Didn’t stop both lowers and uppers from breeding like oysters.

And look at this graph.  It lays out 24 OECD countries from most to least Godly, and plots the birthrates.  It’s pretty much a flat line.  So much for philoprogenitiveness being next to godliness.

Nor does American demographic exceptionalism stand up to much scrutiny.  I believe, though I’ll take correction from anyone who can supply a well-documented source, that if you exclude immigrant births, current American birthrate is just about at the OECD average–1.96, I think.

Not that faith and demography are totally orthogonal.  Small groups of super-religious folk (Amish, Mormons, Hasidim) often have high birthrates, though some faith communities go the other way too.  On a national scale, it doesn’t seem to make much difference.

I’ve said often that I think the inclination to religious belief is an innate constant of human nature that a healthy free society ought to accommodate.  If you want to argue that godly nations have better demographics than ungodly ones, though, I’d like to see the numbers.


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