This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Will the Religious Inherit the Earth?

A few days ago Abu Daoud gave me an "assignment" as a comment on one of my posts. It has taken me a few days to get to it, but it is an interesting issue because the thesis is that the world is getting more religious because the religious are begetting more children. The article to which Abu Daoud refers assumes that "religious" equals conservative, whereas "secular" equals liberal, and so the demographics are moving in the direction of a world dominated by religious conservatives at the expense of secular liberals. The demographic ideas are drawn entirely from a book published a few years ago by Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck College of the University of London--Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-FirstCentury. 

Full disclosure--I have not read the book--but I did find a review of it in the journal Population and Development Review by my long-time friend Dennis Hodgson of Fairfield University. Here are some of his comments:
Kaufmann sees religion as an independent variable that will increasingly affect politics in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. In his interpretation trends in fertility and immigration will increase the proportion of fundamentalist Christians, Jews, and Muslims in these regions, a change that may ultimately “replace reason and freedom with moral puritanism” (p. xiii). No widespread conversions will be needed to bring about religion’s rise, according to Kaufmann. Children largely inherit their parents’ religion, and fundamentalists have higher fertility than their more moderate religious brethren and much higher fertility than religiously skeptical “secularists.” Such differential fertility, abetted by many religious immigrants arriving in Europe and the US, will produce populations at century’s end that are considerably more religious than at present.
So, to begin with, the focus is not on the whole planet, but only on a small portion of the world's population. Any analysis that leaves out Asia and Africa is not going to be able to tell us what the future holds...
Although demography plays a leading role in this 330-page book, there are no tables and only two charts. Kaufmann writes that he collaborated with demographers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria to produce projections of the 11 most populous US religious groups and projections of the Muslim population in eight European countries. These projections appear to be the empirical foundation for his claim that “the religious shall inherit the earth” (p. 269)....a look at the published projections actually offers little evidence of a significant increase in the share of the religious over the next 50 years. For instance, the current TFR of fundamentalist Protestants in the US is 2.13, very close to the national average of 2.08, and Kaufmann’s IIASA demographers project that their share of the US population will fall from 19.5 percent to 16.7 percent over the projection period (2003–2043) while those with no religion will increase slightly from 17.0 percent to 17.4 percent....the proposition that the religious shall inherit the earth, therefore, might be more uncertain than Kaufmann suggests in this volume.
Hodgson points out that people don't have to leave their religion to significantly lower their fertility levels--witness Catholics in the US and Europe and Muslims in Iran and Albania. On the other hand, if religious fundamentalists did overtake the world demographically because of very high birth rates, what would they inherit? A planet that would be unlikely to support them for very long.

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