Declining Birth Rates Linked to Secularization and Growing Hostility Toward Religion

“There is a close correlation between a fertility rate of a particular society or nation and the level of religious involvement or participation in that society.”

Brandon Showalter is a reporter for the Christian Post. His article connects the dots between the precipitous worldwide decline of birthrates, namely human secularism and hostility toward religion.

Declining fertility rates have a significant correlation with increased secularization, according to Baylor University professor Philip Jenkins.

In a Regent College (Vancouver, British Columbia) live-stream titled “Fertility and Faith: A Conversation with Philip Jenkins,” the Baylor University professor of history and co-director of the program on historical studies of religion, explained Thursday that demography derives from changes in religious belief.

Much of modern Africa tends to be devoutly religious and they also happen to have high fertility rates, Jenkins said. By contrast, the lower a population’s fertility rate the greater the likelihood it is for people to separate from faith communities and religious institutions. The fertility rate, then, serves as an insightful window into how societies around the world become more secularized.

We measure change in a society through fertility,” Jenkins said.

“There is a close correlation between a fertility rate of a particular society or nation and the level of religious involvement or participation in that society.”

Amid the relatively recent collapse in fertility rates around the world, especially in Europe, secularization is rising. Jenkins noted that if you told him the fertility rate of any given country it would be fairly easy to say whether that nation allows legal same-sex unions, surmise its attitudes toward faith and religion, and how strong its religious institutions are.

While this correlation is not brought about by simple causation, the link is nevertheless demonstrably present, he stressed.

In the 1960s, the fertility rate in Denmark began to drop below replacement level as the country became more secular. Meanwhile, in the sub-Saharan African country of Uganda, the average woman had five children and religious belief was strong. This pattern holds true across the world with a notable few that seem to buck the trend.

“You might argue that as you take children out of the picture there are far fewer links connecting families and people to institutions. … Take children out of the religious picture and see what happens,” he said.

Or, he posited, it could be the reverse. That as people become more secular in their thinking they forego the charge to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Whichever comes first, these changes are happening rapidly. In Italy, the collapse of the fertility rate and the slide toward rampant secularization has happened within a decade, he noted.

Low-fertility societies are more likely to be hostile to religion, Jenkins added. The key factor in this phenomenon is the institutions.

“Once you separate the idea of family, once you separate sexuality and reproduction, people become a lot less willing to have churches or religious institutions tell them what to do with their personal lives,” he said.

When these religiously-informed ethics break down, political campaigns subsequently arise to legalize or permit by referendums such things as abortion or euthanasia. A low-fertility, secularized society is more inhospitable to efforts of churches and religious institutions to push back, and are often prone to believing the worst charges about faith-based organizations and institutions, he explained.

Jenkins went on to describe how one of the largest shifts in consciousness in his lifetime was from the belief that there was going to be a population explosion. What happened was the reverse.

“To put it crudely, we have lost 2 billion people since then [the 1970s] from what was projected versus what we’ve actually got,” he said. “This is happening because so many people in Latin American and Asia gave up having traditional ‘third world’ population growth rates and suddenly became Danish.”

Christian Post continues