Breeding is believing

cassatMolly Moore, who writes about France for The Washington Post, filed a report on French fertility. It is an anecdote-driven, uncritical look at French regulations’ effect on working mothers. It’s a bit light on data for being so heavy on conjecture, but here’s the nut:

While falling birthrates threaten to undermine economies and social stability across much of an aging Europe, French fertility rates are increasing. France now has the second-highest fertility rate in Europe — 1.94 children born per woman, exceeded slightly by Ireland’s rate of 1.99. The U.S. fertility rate is 2.01 children.

. . . But the propensity of women here to have more babies has little to do with notions of French romance or the population’s formerly strong religious ties to the Roman Catholic Church.

France heavily subsidizes children and families from pregnancy to young adulthood with liberal maternity leaves and part-time work laws for women.

The article describes how the many labor regulations make it easier for professional women to have children. And we all should know that regulations incentivize behavior. In other words, if you pay a woman to have a child, she’ll be more likely to do so. This is why American regulations that gave single mothers — but not married women — access to welfare ended up incentivizing women to stay single. This is also why a wonderful restaurateur in Paris told me he had a hard time finding employees since unemployment benefits were so high.

But is this all about incentivizing women to have children? Does this really have nothing to do with religion? Let’s get the biggest ghost in this story out of the way. What is the second-largest religion in France, practiced by as many as 5 to 10 percent of the population, according to the CIA World Factbook? And what do we know about the fertility rates of these folks?

Let’s look at another story about fertility, this one written by Eric Kauffman for The Prospect. The whole piece is great, arguing that demography favors the fertile. And the fertile are religious. Here’s a bit about the ghost:

[I]t is difficult to predict what proportion of Europe’s population will be of non-European descent in the future because few European countries collect census data on ethnicity and religion. The occasionally cited figure of 30 per cent ethnic minorities in western Europe by 2050 is little more than an educated guess. One of the few countries to collect ethnoreligious census information is Austria, where a recent projection — based on a conservative estimate of 20,000 immigrants a year and various assumptions about religious abandonment and fertility — predicted that Muslims would make up between 14 and 26 per cent of the population in 2050, up from 4 per cent today.

The word Muslim doesn’t appear in Moore’s article. But let’s even get back to her contention that general religiosity has nothing to do with French fertility. Kauffman’s analysis of the data suggests otherwise. He says that half of Europeans are expressing a high degree of religiosity even if they don’t regularly attend church — including France — and that

These people, described by Grace Davie as “believing without belonging,” are seen by some as carriers of a flimsy faith which will soon disappear, and which doesn’t affect behaviour or attitudes. But if this is the case, how do we explain the fact that the fertility of these non-attending believers is much closer to church attenders than to non-believers? The non-attending religious are also significantly more likely than non-believers to identify themselves as ideologically conservative, even when controlling for education, wealth, age and generation.

Even though Moore hid one ghost and casually dismissed another, they may be hard to keep out of the story.

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  • Randy McDonald


    Two years ago, I took a look at the question of French fertility and the likely contours and demographic trends of France’s Muslim populations on my blog.

    The fertility of French Muslims _is_ substantially higher than that of French non-Muslims, but French non-Muslims have a higher TFR than their counterparts in Germany, Italy, or Spain. French non-Muslims, like their counterparts elsewhere in northwestern Europe, produce more children than their counterparts almost everywhere else in the developed world.

  • C. Wingate

    Rather ironic that the picture is by an American (Mary Cassatt).

  • Randy McDonald

    All the more so that she never had children of her own!

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Although I cannot point to a poll or survey that has been done on this issue–I believe there is a psychologocal,or spiritual, or emotional connection between belief in the next life (or eternal life, or heaven) and a passion for life(and creating or giving life) and its existence in this world. Thus I am convinced that all those Protestant Christian denominations and secular societies which have embraced non-life or death in all its various immoral forms (birth control, divorce, abortion, gay sex) are dooming themselves (and the peoples who listen to them)
    to a slow-sometimes imperceptible-death. That also means that those Catholic hotshot intellectuals, theologians, and panderers to the values of the modern world are among the worst traitors to their Faith and their people no matter how fancy their degrees from prestige divinity schools or how loud the praise from the decadence loving quarters of the mass media.