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The United States just passed a critical statistical landmark, one that I think – I fear – has immense implications for the nation’s religious life. If I am right, and we are dealing with early days, we might seriously be looking at the opening stages of a large scale process of secularization. After being reported and speculated about for decades, that secularization might finally be happening. As I will argue, the term “secularization” over-simplifies the process, but let that stand presently.
The landmark in question concerns the fertility rate, the average number of children that a woman bears in her life. (Scholars commonly speak of the total fertility rate, TFR). If that figure is around 2.1 children per woman, then the population will remain broadly stable, and that level is termed “replacement rate.” If the rate is much higher than that, say 5 or 6 per woman, then we will see a rapidly expanding population with many young people and young adults, with all the restlessness and turbulence that suggests. A fertility rate below 2.1 results in contracting population and an aging society. (Death rates are also significant, but less so for present purposes).
Observers - Relationship - Fertility - Rates - Community
Rarely remarked even by expert observers, there is an inverse relationship between the fertility rates of a community and that society’s degree of religious fervor and commitment. High fertility societies, like most of contemporary Africa, tend to be fervent and devout. Conversely, the lower the fertility rate, and the smaller the family size, the greater the tendency to detach from organized or institutional religion. That shift from high to low commonly takes place in a short time, a generation or so. Fertility rates thus supply an effective gauge of trends towards secularization. What follows is a bare sketch, but I will deal with it in much greater detail...
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