|Death by secularism: Some
Infertility is killing off the secular world, a number of writers have
observed, including Phillip Longman, whose 1994 book The Empty Cradle
I reviewed last year.  In the former Soviet empire, where atheism reigned as
state policy for generations, the United Nations forecasts extreme declines in
population by 2050, ranging from 22% for the Russian Federation to nearly 50%
for the Ukraine. Secular western Europe will lose 4% to 12% of its population,
while the population of the churchgoing United States continues to grow. Is
secularism at fault? The numbers do not suggest otherwise.
Humankind cannot abide the terror of mortality without the promise of
immortality, I have argue in the past.  In the absence of religion human
society sinks into depressive torpor. Secular society therefore is an oxymoron,
for the death of religion leads quickly enough to the death of society itself.
These are impressionistic rather than rigorous arguments, however. Explaining
the causes of population change has frustrated statisticians for years. Many
factors influence fertility, including urbanization and literacy. Subsistence
farmers view children as cheap labor and a source of wealth; peoples who
remember a high infant mortality rate have more children; uneducated people do
not plan the size of families, and impoverished people cannot afford the means
to do so.
Having found no academic research that specifically measures the impact of
religious belief on fertility controlling for these factors, I have done some
calculations of my own using a cross section of data for 174 countries. My
analysis, preliminary as it is, supports the conclusion that religious belief
strongly influences fertility after controlling for wealth and education. There
are lies, damned lies, and statistics, of course, and results of this kind
should be viewed with caution. Still, this analysis passes the first cut of
tests for rigor.
A visual comparison of population growth rates and degree of religious belief
shows strong correlation. The World Christian Database
(www.worldchristiandatabase.org) reports the percentage of individuals
declaring themselves "atheists" or "non-religious" in more than 200 countries,
as well as economic and demographic data.  Using the 2005 population
projections published in February by the United Nations Economic and Social
Council, I compared a number of measures of population growth to the data for
religious belief. The results are shown below.
the countries with high population growth rates (vertical scale) have an
extremely low percentage of non-religious people (horizontal scale), while all
the countries with extremely low population growth rates have a high percentage
of non-religious people. There are of course some countries (e.g., France and
the UK) with population growth rates above zero despite a very large proportion
of non-religious. Very high fertility of immigrant populations, though, helps
explain why the French and British numbers deviate from the trend. Although a
sample of 83 countries permits a great deal of differentiation, the overlap of
cultures due to immigration necessarily will lead to some anomalies. 
More important is that a scatter-plot of population growth vs percentage of
non-religious people, of course, is a naive comparison, ignoring other factors
that influence fertility. One could (and demographers do) spend a lifetime
fitting different pieces of data into the jigsaw puzzle to explain the
variation in population growth across countries. This effort is a sketch rather
than a finished picture, of course, and I have been able to test only a few
By far the strongest predictor of population growth rates is adult literacy.
That is not surprising, as illiterate people are likely to let nature take its
course without any consideration for the implications of family size.
Nonetheless, religious belief (measured by the log of the percentage of
non-religious in the population) remains a strong predictor even when adult
literacy is introduced as a control variable (at the nearly 100% confidence
level). Wealth, that is, per capita GDP, shows no significance in the equation.
Exhibit 2: Test statistics for religious belief, wealth, and
literacy as predictors of population growth (83 largest countries
by population size)
explains 68% of the variation in population growth across countries. More
important than the degree of explanatory power (r squared ) is the significance
of each predictor, that is, the probability that the true coefficient is not
zero. Both religious belief and literacy show significance at close to the 100%
confidence level. The results change little if the 50, or 100, or 150 largest
countries are included in the sample.
Underlying the demographic crisis of the industrial world, I believe, is a
spiritual crisis. If the above analysis has any merit, the issue is not wealth,
but rather the desire of men to continue to inhabit this planet. Secular
ideologies - socialism, positivism, and so forth - promised a world free of
bigotry and hatred, and an unending vista of peace and prosperity. Humankind,
however, has vomited up these ideologies. Secular Europe and radical Islam in
that sense represent two sides of the same coin: both have rejected the secular
order, the latter through open battle, and the former through fatal
Demographic analysis can help strip secularism of its progressive mask and
reveal the death's-head underneath. The analysis shown above may be the work of
an amateur, but it will serve a good purpose if it provokes the professionals
to do a more thorough job.
Faith, fertility and American dominance, Sep 8, 2004.
Why Europe chooses extinction, Apr 8, 2003.
 Generously, the World Christian Database allows some free downloads
although the full dataset requires a paid subscription.
 A case could be made that a certain threshold of secularism must be reached
in order to influence population growth. Using the logarithm of the percentage
of non-religious approximates this threshold effect, but this is a way of
linearizing a relationship that evidently is not linear to begin with. A LOGIT
model might permit better specification than linear regression.
(Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us
for information on
sales, syndication and
All material on this website is
copyright and may not be republished in any form without written permission.
© Copyright 1999 - 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd.
Head Office: Rm 202, Hau Fook
Mansion, No. 8 Hau Fook St., Kowloon, Hong Kong
Thailand Bureau: 11/13 Petchkasem Road, Hua
Hin, Prachuab Kirikhan, Thailand 77110