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[culture] Genetics, religion and society - Lakeshore — LiveJournal
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Jay Lake
Date: 2011-02-03 05:46
Subject: [culture] Genetics, religion and society
Security: Public
Tags:culture, religion, science
A day or ago on my blog, with respect to a story about a "gene for religiosity" supposedly taking over due to disparate birth rates among religious and secular populations, I remarked:
For one thing, if this were true, why hasn't the effect already been overwhelming? Religion isn't exactly a modern phenomenon.

ericjamesstone offered some speculation in an interesting response:

One possible explanation would be that up until the birth control era, men and women who were not predisposed toward religiosity still had a lot of offspring, due to engaging in offspring-producing behavior.

Another would be that up until concerns about overpopulation caused people to start limiting the number of children they had based on ideology, non-religious people may not have had any additional reason to limit the number of their offspring as compared to religious people. So while concerns about the expense of having children, etc., might affect religious and non-religious alike, concerns about limiting human impact on the environment might reduce the reproductive rate of the non-religious more than the religious.


While neither especially agreeing nor disagreeing with Eric (unusually so for the two of us, in fact), his remarks got me to thinking. I find I question some of the assumptions he proposes.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, for most people their best available labor source as well as their most likely form of eldercare (as it were) came from having as many children as possible. Infant mortality rates meant that if you wanted surviving adult children, you didn't stop to celebrate after the first birth or two and focus on raising them. Offspring-producing behavior was highly incented regardless of one's faith holding. So I think I'm good with his first 'graf.

However, I'm not sure it's ever been true that large number of people limit the number of children they have based on ideology. There's a very strong inverse correlation between economic status and family size that's demonstrable over and over again across many societies. I won't pretend to have any deep understanding of that, but I would hazard a speculation of my own that the marginal cost of another child rises as your planned investment in each child rises. Another mouth to feed can be critically expensive if you don't have enough food to go around, but if you're living well enough above subsistence to be worried about things like eventual college tuition (to stretch the point), another mouth is also very expensive within the resource calculus of that family.

But I don't think that's ideology. I think that's response to one's perception of one's own resource constraints. What Eric refers to above as "concerns about the expense of having children". While surely people have restricted child bearing for ideological or religious reasons (when's the last time you met a Shaker?), so far as I'm aware those positions have never been taken up by mass movements with enough force to impact large-scale demographics. Eric's "concerns about limiting human impact on the environment", in other words.

I don't believe the genetics holds up in any case. So far as I know there's a tendency to normalize back to the center. This is the central intellectual error of the eugenics movement. I'm also not sure the sociology holds up. To be clear, I'm riffing here. I don't have research to back any of this up. I'm just responding to speculation with speculation of my own. But it's definitely an interesting question.

Your thoughts?

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e_bourne
User: e_bourne
Date: 2011-02-03 15:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Maybe, and I'm just spitballing here, it's as simple as the fact that many women love babies. Most of us (even me, who doesn't like babies) love our own. I'd have had another, possibly three, if I could have. I have one because that's what nature gave me.

In upper economic levels, more men get clipped. So whether their wives want babies or not, they can't finagle their ways around them. They are limited by what their less baby-loving (and more practical) spouses decide to do with their reproduction.

In lower economic levels, fewer men go for that option. And women who love babies can keep having babies as they old ones grow up. It's OK, and in fact, it's the norm.

It's what my mother and most of her friends did. It's what most of my blue-collar school mates did, and their daughters are doing now.

So that's my theory. It may be utterly useless. But the making of babies takes two. I suspect that if you look at statistics, you'll see more men are getting vasectomies than ever before, and it's more educated men. Why they are deciding to limit their reproduction is the question that I suspect should be asked, and likely it's economic.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2011-02-03 15:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think you've hit on a truth here.

One thing I noticed back when I converted to Catholicism was that, even in my (at the time) fairly conservative parish, large families were the exception, not the norm. There were maybe two families who fit the Catholic stereotype, and the rest were small families whose women were quietly firm that they'd had enough babies. The family size correlated to income rather than belief, though the larger families also tended toward the more religious in daily ritualistic practices (attendance at Daily Mass, if possible, Adoration, Rosary, Altar Society, etc).

Several of the women with smaller families told me stories about their own mothers. They observed the toll that larger families took on their mother, and they didn't want that for themselves. One woman told me about how, when the doctors told her mother that another baby would kill her, it took the parish priest speaking bluntly to her that she needed to take care of herself for the good of her living children to get her to comply. Pre-Vatican II, no less.

Against Vatican tenets? Oh hell, yes. Most likely less possible these days because of ideological hardening. One thing I learned from my time in that conservative parish was that you found unexpected breaths of liberalism in the most unusual places in the Catholic Church...and often, that might be a particularly enlightened and pragmatic Irish priest (most of the priests of this ilk were Irish, not Italian...Italians would have told the woman to keep on having babies. Subgroups within the Church in America, something outsiders don't always acknowledge or have awareness about).

That said, there are anecdotes to the contrary out there, and I've heard them. But I will say that some of the most aggressive religious feminists I've encountered have been in the Church (and that's not counting the nuns. But then, I know one nun who still resents that her call to the priesthood will not be acknowledged in her lifetime. Shame, because she would have been good at it).
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nancyfulda
User: nancyfulda
Date: 2011-02-03 16:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"One thing I noticed back when I converted to Catholicism was that, even in my (at the time) fairly conservative parish, large families were the exception, not the norm."

I think joycemocha brings up an interesting issue here. There seems to be a general assumption that religious people tend have larger families than nonreligious people.

Does anyone know whether that's actually true? Is encouragement from religious ideologies actually making a statistical difference in family size?
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scarlettina
User: scarlettina
Date: 2011-02-04 15:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, it's making a statistically significant difference in Israel, not only religiously but socially and politically as well. Israeli secular society is feeling the press of the Haredi (the ultra-Orthodox) in national politics in pretty unsettling ways. The Haredi are making a point of having large families because they know that a majority can make a difference in a democratic society, and now they're pushing their agenda in ways that make it more difficult for secular or differently-observant Jews and for people of other faiths to be heard when it comes to social or political issues.
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S. Boyd Taylor
User: sboydtaylor
Date: 2011-02-03 16:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"In upper economic levels, more men get clipped. So whether their wives want babies or not, they can't finagle their ways around them. They are limited by what their less baby-loving (and more practical) spouses decide to do with their reproduction."

I am clipped, but only at the request of my wife, who does not want another baby (one is enough, and that one was a surprise to her). Also, the procedure is provided free-of-charge through many insurance companies, because it is cheaper for them than paying for a baby.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
e_bourne
User: e_bourne
Date: 2011-02-03 21:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's possible that economic and resource constraints effect a couple's decision to have kids. Color me puce for doubtful. The reason being that I recall when I wanted kids, I wanted to have a baby. No economic, resource, or location criteria need apply. It was just time. I was in my late twenties and optimistic and things would just work out, y'know?

From what I saw of my friends, and see of my son's friends, and my co-workers, it's the same for them. A coworker of mine in her forties recently confessed to wanting another baby (she has two) but her husband has a vasectomy, so well, no more.

It's not a statistical sampling. But it is my personal experience that we think about all sorts of things -- until our hormones kick in and then good intentions can (and often do) quickly go out the window. And let's face it, the age group that has children is not the most reasoned, careful, foreward thinking. People in their 20s and early 30s. And maybe that's best because otherwise would we even take the burden of children on at all? :)
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
e_bourne
User: e_bourne
Date: 2011-02-03 23:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sure, these are our personal stories. I have had abortions (more than one). I've had live babies, and miscarriages. Our personal stories are often difficult.

Which is why I think that the reasons for changes in children born is more complex than simple -- more involved than economics and education. What is a family today anyway? Who is defining this statistical family?

Are the reasons we do or don't have children emotional or rational? I don't have answers, just questions. And a feeling that a complex issue is reduced to a simple formula that just doesn't feel right to me for many reasons.
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fjm
User: fjm
Date: 2011-02-03 16:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Actually there is a lot of historical evidence suggesting that all things being equal, family size of four to five is about the norm in pre-industrial societies. This is still true. Do not confuse poor agricultural communities (however large) with pre-industrial society.

Lots of factors influence family size: lengthening education tends to render them smaller (achieved through marital celibacy or restricting intercourse, or the use of prostitutes), but so too do inheritance practices. Nineteenth century France, with partible inheritance, tends to small families. Northern Germany, with primogeniture, to large ones. Farms need two or three sons but not too many children, industrial areas can use a lot of female labour. Where the Church wants recruits, the effect can overrule issues of inheritance, and large family size can be compensated for by astonishingly low levels of marriage ((below 30% in early 20th century Ireland).

Slightly astray, but I realised a few days ago that legitimizing a man's by blows might encourage men to pay more attention to contraception. Currently, in most of the Christian West, a woman's first child is her heir, but a man's assumed heir is still the first one born in wedlock.
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Kari Sperring
User: la_marquise_de_
Date: 2011-02-03 18:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Early Wales and Ireland saw aristocratic men routinely having multiple wives/concubines on top of this, leading in some cases to large numbers of sons (daughters are less thoroughly recorded) all of whom were potential heirs (unless their mothers were bondswomen). Which led to huge, complicated, bloody succession disputes... It's hard to know what an average family size is in the absence of figures for the numbers of children women had (we usually only have records of the father) but where we can see this, four or five is the norm, indeed. (I think Nest f Rhys had five sons who survived to adulthood, for instance, but she was an aristocrat, well fed etc. Given the marginal nature of the Welsh and Irish economies at that period, the mortality rate amongst the children of poorer women was probably higher -- as was the mortality rate of said women, indeed.)
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kimberlywade
User: kimberlywade
Date: 2011-02-03 16:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
From what i've read, family size has everything to do with the education of women. Educate women and they have few babies.
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nancyfulda
User: nancyfulda
Date: 2011-02-03 16:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The causality probably goes the other way, as well: Restrict a woman's family size, and she achieves more education.
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Chris Coen
User: clarentine
Date: 2011-02-03 17:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That's what I've always heard, as well - I remember an NPR news article about, IIRC, the gov't of Indonesia making an effort to educate women specifically to reduce the birth rate.

My spouse is clipped, at my request. *g* One kid is enough!
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
kimberlywade
User: kimberlywade
Date: 2011-02-03 20:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is going back about thirty years, but my mother-in-law was a single-mother of seven--it was not by choice! She worked full-time and all her kids went to college. None of her kids has more than three, and three of her kids have chosen to have none at all.
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oaksylph: fig
User: oaksylph
Date: 2011-02-03 17:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:fig
"But I don't think that's ideology. I think that's response to one's perception of one's own resource constraints."

What I hear from the majority of my under-35 patrons, particularly the female ones, and keep in mind that we are talking largely about an educated demographic as this is a bookshop, is that they want relationship stability, economic stability, and good insurance before they have kids. I've been quietly collecting the opinions and find that about 80% of the young women here do not expect to have a first child prior to the age of 35. About another 10% say they would have children but don't believe they will ever achieve enough stability.

This would tend to support your argument. It's also kind of scary.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
oaksylph
User: oaksylph
Date: 2011-02-03 21:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
(Actually I had to go through perimenopause for about six months when I was 21 due to a medical condition. Though I appear to be back to normal, I haven't tried to conceive - for the same reasons as the young women in my shop: divorce, small bank account, no insurance. What's really annoying, though, is that I will probably go through the change for real in my 50's or so and won't get time off for time already served. It's enough to make a girl stay on estrogen til death >:[ )

They're calling this generation "the new depression generation," which kind of works on some levels, but there are two elements to this generation that are quite different: birth control availability and the *belief* that having too many kids is irresponsible, possibly even penalizeable. I think we're on the same road as post-Soviet Russia: the birth rate will keep dropping until the economy gives us a reason to think we could give children reasonably good lives.

By that time, however, my ova will be well past their expiry date. *sigh*
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
oaksylph
User: oaksylph
Date: 2011-02-03 21:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Mmyes. I was born just when the energy crisis and unemployment and such had made children quite undesirable for quite a lot of people, and those cycles happen. But this time, a whole generation is rediscovering the idea that living on less means having more, something a lot of people walked into the 70's and 80's already knowing and something that most people had forgotten in the 90's and aughts. Now, however, living on less includes not having kids, or at least not until past a somewhat dangerous age.

I could be shortsighted, but it does look weird from here.
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Laurel Amberdine: sky
User: amberdine
Date: 2011-02-03 17:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:sky
Increases in education, affluence, and urban dwelling have always led to a drop in birth rates, regardless of beliefs.

(Which isn't to say that a belief system couldn't change that trend among select groups.)


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Kari Sperring
User: la_marquise_de_
Date: 2011-02-03 18:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
With my historian hat on, neither model allows for the much higher levels of infant and child mortality in earlier societies, nor for the effects of practices such as fostering, farming of children out to childless relatives and adoption and the impact of the same on the children. Mind you, I'm a nurture over nature person where this kind of thing is concerned. (And surely a gene for 'religiosity' is a gene for credulity of some kind anyway, and would be noticeable in a wide variety of other behaviours also?)
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User: amy34
Date: 2011-02-03 20:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The higher the education level of the mother, the fewer babies she will have (on average). College graduates average 1.56 children, lower than the replacement rate (Bachu 1993).
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Angel: zoo
User: valarltd
Date: 2011-02-03 20:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:zoo
I have four children because I do not have five. I have a BA in English (my engineering career tanked with my differential equations grade) and I have worked for a paycheck since I was 15.

I was a bit of a fascist in my teens and twenties, right down to the whole idea of eugenics, an idea my highly breederific church did nothing to undermine. Intelligent, educated, Christian (and it goes without saying, white) women needed to have MORE babies. We had to outbreed the heathen and keep America Christian. And we couldn't let the ignorant masses (IQ 110 and lower) take over by having oodles of kids.

As for resources? Don't worry! God never sends a lamb that he doesn't provide a pasture for.

Fortunately, I outgrew this sometime around my third child. I had the fourth out of a strong feeling that there was one more person supposed to be here. After her, nothing more.

These days? I'm nondeistic pantheist. My primary spiritual mission is making cheesecake, not children. Highly ironic that I was raising God-warriors and Broodmares, and ended up with two atheists and two that heard the call of the Goddess.


Edited at 2011-02-03 08:58 pm (UTC)
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ericjamesstone
User: ericjamesstone
Date: 2011-02-04 01:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I came up with the following numbers based on the Pew survey on religion in the U.S.

I combined the numbers for Atheist, Agnostic, and Secular Unaffiliated into one group, which I'll call "Non-Religious." They made up 9% of the total sample. I grouped everyone else into "Religious." They made up 90% of the total sample. (Figures may not add up to 100% because of rounding in the original data and the omission of non-responses.)

For the following, "children" means children under 18 living at home. It is not an estimate of lifetime total children, which would be the truly relevant number for the purposes of evolution.

Non-Religious with no children: 70%
Religious with no children: 64%

Non-Religious with 1-2 children: 25%
Religious with 1-2 children: 26%

Non-Religious with 3+ children: 5%
Religious with 3+ children: 9%

So, from those very general numbers, it would seem that in general, the Religious do have more children than the Non-Religious, but the disparity is not tremendous.

However, if we pick Jay's demographic group (Atheists), and compare it to mine (Mormons), we find a little more disparity:

Atheists with no children: 75%
Mormons with no children: 51%

Atheists with 1-2 children: 21%
Mormons with 1-2 children: 28%

Atheists with 3+ children: 5%
Mormons with 3+ children: 21%

Now, these comparisons are not completely fair, as they are not adjusted for age, income, education, and other factors. For example, Atheists skew younger, so they haven't had as much time to have children. (Of course, older Mormons have had time for children to turn eighteen.) But I think they're indicative of at least some "ideological" difference in the number of children people are choosing to have.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2011-02-04 03:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thank you. Fascinating.
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nwhiker: Cottage Lake snow
User: nwhiker
Date: 2011-02-04 22:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Cottage Lake snow
I know this doesn't have anything to do with religion, but it's something I've been noticing over the past few years.

The rich are having more kids.

It used to be they had 1, maybe 2, perhaps 3. Well, now, I'm seeing more and more wealthier families having 4 and even 5 kids.

I've talked to a few friends about this, and they've noticed it too. TBC, these are the people who are probably in that 250k a year bracket.

My feeling is that it is an unspoken show of wealth. I'd have loved to have four kids, but the reality of paying for college for four kids? Not so much. Having four or five kids is pretty much saying that you don't have to count those pennies.

Anyhow, this is entirely anecdotal. I don't belong to that income bracket but for various reasons (language immersion) we send our kids to a private an independent school and I'm seeing more and more people with larger and larger families.

It definitely goes against the more education/wealthier ==> less kids idea and I'll be watching over the new few years to see what gives.
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Amanda
User: cissa
Date: 2011-02-05 23:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Anecdotal, but: when my husband and i married, we'd planned on having 2-3 kids.

Our first kid, though, was "difficult"- turned out to be mentally ill, and once we grokked that we got services etc. that helped us raised her and that I credit with saving her life. However, the sheer difficulty before she was accurately diagnosed made us stop with her. OK, maybe a new baby would have been great... but s/he also may have been just as difficult as she was, and frankly, we were close to the limits of our ability to cope with just the one.

And it's not like more kids would have been a help by feeding the chickens or something; in suburbia, kids cost but do not contribute practically.

So, yeah. The ideology was a help, but the pragmatics ruled, for us.
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