Fertility, Faith, and a Secular America?

The Gospel Coalition | 10/21/2019 | Philip Jenkins
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This past year, fertility rates in the United States fell to a historic low, with the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) standing at 1.7 (that statistic refers to the number of children a typical woman will bear during her lifetime). Technically, the present U.S. figure is known as a sub-replacement rate, as it is well below the number needed for a population to replace and maintain itself indefinitely, which is 2.1. Such a precipitous fertility drop has sweeping implications, especially as it has occurred in such a short period—just in the past decade or so—and recent changes have attracted intense attention from economists, planners, and politicians.

As yet, however, observers of U.S. religion have shown little concern or interest—which is curious since, worldwide, a move to very low fertility has been an excellent predictor of secularization and the decline of institutional religion. Fertility and faith travel closely together. Present demographic trends in the United States are the best indicator yet of an impending secular shift of historic proportions, even a transition to West European conditions. This is, or should be, one of the most significant and newsworthy developments in modern American religion.

Precedent - Attention - Rates - Baby-boom - Rates

That European precedent demands our attention. In the 1950s, European rates ran at high baby-boom rates, around 3.0 children per woman, or more. From the mid-1960s, sharp falls became evident, first in Protestant countries—notably in Scandinavia—and then in Catholic lands. By the 1980s, some European countries were pushing rates to unprecedented lows of 1.3 or lower, although they have subsequently rebounded somewhat. A typical European country today has a TFR around 1.7 to 1.8—roughly equal to the United States.

That fertility drop coincided perfectly with a well-known and much-studied move away from institutional religion, which in some countries amounted to something like evaporation. That drop also coincided with a tectonic shift in...
(Excerpt) Read more at: The Gospel Coalition
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