Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about a ridiculous “briefing” from Al Mohler last month. In it, he asserted that women had to bear and raise children in order to be considered fully human in his little world. Even evangelicals got upset with him over that one! This time, we zero in on one of the more WTF lines of thinking in his post. See, Al Mohler thinks that (white) American women refuse to breed like they used to because his religion has become less dominant in our culture. Today, let’s see if that’s true.
The Good Ole Days… of the Great Depression.
You’ve gotta laugh about Al Mohler’s conceptualization of one of the harshest challenges America’s ever faced. He touched on the topic in his “daily briefing” on August 27 while wringing his widdle handsies over how few babies white women are having lately:
If you go back in American history, if you look at a time of even far greater, fundamentally far greater economic loss in the Great Depression, Americans still had babies. There was a dip in the birth rate during that period, but nothing like what we’re seeing now, and especially on the horizon.
Yeah, cuz there is one thing you can definitively say about evangelicals like Al Mohler. They certainly have a remarkably good grasp of history and an accurate notion of past events. Yep. For sure. (/s)
Yes, the birthrate of American women fell considerably during the Great Depression: from almost 3.5 children per woman (according to this graph) to just over 2 per woman. It only fell to lower numbers during the 1970s energy crisis and the housing bubble’s bursting in the 2000s. And it went that way for reasons immediately obvious to us.
However, Al Mohler’s incapable of recognizing those reasons because of his enslavement to the narrative he’s spun for himself.
Disproving Al Mohler In One Graph.
Look back at that link with the graph. We’re about to use critical thinking to make Al Mohler look like an absolute idiot (not that it’s that hard, but bear with me).
By the 1950s, childbearing picked up enormously–to more than 3.5 children per woman. The birthrate damn near doubled over its 1930s rate. Those were the years when fundagelicals began coming into considerable power. As soon as they gained that power, they began wielding intense coercion over Americans in the cultural sphere.
Indeed, they held that power for some time. By the 1980s (when I joined up), I didn’t know anybody who wasn’t firmly Christian. And yet America’s birthrate then remained lower than it was in the 1930s. And by 2006, which I believe is the peak of evangelical power in the modern age, the birthrate was actually lower still.
It Couldn’t Have Been Christians’ Cultural Power.
But Christians largely pushed the entire idea of Prohibition, a boneheaded idea that unfortunately defined the 1920s. They brought about an amendment to the Constitution. Even today, “dry counties” dot the Deep South. These counties–and three entire states by default–cannot legally sell alcohol. They prevent these sales because local governments there still bow down to the whims of their evangelical masters.
And during those years, the birthrate looked more like it did at the end of World War II: easily between 3-3.3 children per woman. Oopsie.
Al Mohler’s not going to tell me that evangelicals dominated American culture less in the 1920s than during the 1930s.
Supply and Demand.
I scared up a chapter from an economics textbook. It was eye-opening! To summarize, a lot of factors influence childbearing, but they mostly come down to the costs involved and the resources parents can bring to bear to do the job. Some takeaways:
- At the beginning of the 20th century, childbearing numbers looked really high. However, that’s because women with humongous families skewed the numbers. In 1910, 2/3 of married women bore 2 or fewer children. Another 23% of married women remained childless. (p. 4) (Another paper identifies this drop as one of the world’s largest.)
- The Depression represented part of a long trend of decreasing fertility. (p. 4)
- Fertility likely declined in part due to the rising costs associated with childrearing–and with greater advances in medicine that allowed more babies to survive those precarious early months. (p. 8)
- Though unreliable, contraception helped women control their family sizes. (p. 10)
- Interestingly, Amish people became sorta the guinea pig for economic theories about childbearing and family size. (p. 18) For example: having access to electricity in early adulthood lowers both fertility rate and infant mortality rate, just like it does to tons of other people who aren’t Amish.
- Yes, contraception radically altered Americans’ fertility rate, as did family planning programs. (p. 20-21) So did a sweeping rise in women’s educational levels (p. 26).
- And yes, mostly Mohler’s talking about white women here; women of color have always borne more children (though the gap has narrowed quite a bit over time). (p. 37)
So: to a certain extent, couples generally have children according to what family size they have in mind. They keep in mind their resources and what that number of children will cost to raise–and how likely infant mortality is to affect family size.
Opportunity Costs and Return on Investment.
In turn, according to that economics essay, parents have an idea in mind of how much of a return they’re likely to have on those children. They also bear in mind what opportunities they sacrifice by having that many (or by having children at all). For example, the use of children for unpaid labor on farms led to an increase in fertility in the Deep South after the Civil War. Their parents lost the use of slave labor, so had more children to compensate (p. 12).
Urbanization and industrialization only added more variables to the equation. Once that got rolling around WWII, families paid a lot more for larger homes for their larger broods. That increase in costs led to a dampening effect on fertility.
At that time, too, white women headed to the workforce, where women of color had always been. That transition added a need for paid childcare (or for volunteers, who were scarce even then and almost impossibly rare now). Since Southern businesses back then often fired women when they got married, women tended to delay marriage, which of course further lowered their fertility (p. 13)
Jesus, Jesus, Who’s Got the Jesus?
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives! But you might notice something missing from all these observations: any role that religion might have played in these complex math equations of life.
The paper made one mention of anti-obscenity laws (often obviously driven by religious fanatics) keeping contraception out of the hands of people who needed it (p. 20). Their meddling increased fertility some 4-8% in areas where people couldn’t obtain this help.
Further, when we look at birthrate charts going by US Census Regions (p. 37), we can see that by Al Mohler’s precious Golden Age, the freakin’ Depression, those differences had largely narrowed. Yes, the Deep South and Midwest tend to have more children. But not too many more.
Another paper detailed in Science Daily identified one other factor influencing family size: cultural transmission. Here, an area’s dominant culture communicates to potential parents. It influences their perception of the value and costs associated with children (and their approval of family planning).
That factor certainly would encompass religion’s influence–and in that sense, Christianity’s decline would matter enormously.
But again, Christianity held uncontested power over American culture for the last couple of centuries–and yet the birthrate fell regardless a few times during that reign, at some points HUGELY.
The Missing Jesus.
Other than a quick discussion of the Amish (p. 18), religion was largely absent from that first paper. And that discussion was, itself, illuminating. The paper described a sharp contrast between how religious nuts operated and how regular Americans operated. Remember, we’re talking about the 20th century. Christianity dominated the religious landscape. And yet the only group those economics gurus saw using religion as a factor in determining their fertility were the freakin’ Amish.
It was similarly missing from the other papers I consulted, except to note religious handwringing over fertility. In fact, that abortion paper I mentioned earlier concluded that anti-abortion laws were not a reflection of larger changes in social mores that, themselves, actually been the factor impacting fertility rates. Other similar hand-wringing laws she tested against her hypothesis (like laws banning the singing of obscene songs) didn’t impact the fertility rate at all. Instead, limiting women’s access to abortion providers and family planning tools increased the birthrate, in and of themselves.
So… a culture’s level of fervor does not, in fact, matter much when it comes to big important decisions.
Why Al Mohler’s So Emotional These Days.
Nowadays, America’s birthrate has fallen below replacement levels (which experts put at around 2.1 children per woman). And it’s fallen the fastest among the women Al Mohler considers his personal enemies: educated, liberal, financially-secure white women.
Hence, the hand-wringing in his post. He hated those women when he enlisted in the evangelical fight against evil feminists in the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence. And one could easily argue that their entire culture war against abortion consists of emotional trench combat against feminism’s very linchpin: abortion, where we witness the collision of self-ownership, bodily autonomy, and full human rights for women.
He despises all three of those things. Wants them dead and buried and forgotten.
Poor Al Mohler. I can only imagine that his fragile emotional state, caused by his deep distress over his religion’s mounting losses in the cultural sphere, led to him forgetting these important cultural shifts.
He’s scared of losing control and enraged over losing it to his enemies. And it’s made him overlook some important facts.
The Explanation This Silly, Emotional Man Needs.
If his essay wore clothes, they’d be printed with ditsy dots. In it, Al Mohler chirps that America’s lower fertility rate has to do with lower levels of religious affiliation and patriotism.
For cryin’ out loud, he called the essay “Less Patriotism, Less God, Fewer Babies.” He really thinks that evangelicals’ creepy version of jingoistic nationalism and their favorite kind of theocratic religious fervor account for Americans’ growing rejection of parenthood. (Remember, he barely comprehends that some women want to be parents but can’t get there for whatever reason. We’ll talk about that situation later on.)
That would be because the costs of raising children and the opportunity costs of having them looked wayyyy different in 1930. Poor guy doesn’t realize, either, that contraception and easy access to family planning tools–including legalized abortion–played a massive role in lowering the birthrate.
Further, parents’ political and social opinions don’t really change much after having children. They do become more risk-averse with regard to their children’s safety. That’s it. They don’t do a 180 with political stances. Nor do parents differ all that much from non-parents with regard to political attitudes.
I realize this sounds really silly to say, but the 1930s were a really different time. I don’t think Al Mohler realizes that.
BUT BUT BUT LOOKIT THOSE OTHER PEOPLE!
Poor Al Mohler. Learning must make his poor lil fluffy featherbrain hurt. At one point he whines, after noting that SOME PEOPLE talk about economics influencing family size,
People who are living right now in what might be defined as subsistence economies, are having children, often having a lot of children.
It’s like he seriously has no idea why that might be. Why oh why, cries this emotional little fellow, might people in some completely-unnamed hellhole have tons of kids? He sees this and concludes that hmph! Obviously THEIR finances have nothing to do with their fertility!
Poor silly thing! He’s thinking with his emotions. We can tell because he never tells us exactly what people he’s discussing. He can’t. Speaking very generally, though, he might not realize that these “subsistence economies” might sharply limit contraception access. He doesn’t know what the costs are of bearing children are in America, so why would we expect him to know about anyplace else?
Then, too, maybe children help out on the farm like kids did in the Deep South after the Civil War. Maybe, as we see in the modern Deep South, the opportunity costs of parenting for poor and uneducated women (the kind he likes best!) remain extremely low.
Most of America is not a subsistence economy anyway. They’re poor, yes, thanks to men just like him. But not quite subsistence farmers in the Dust Bowl of 1933.
So once again, he’s comparing apples to oranges. What on earth could we expect, though? He’s just so EMOTIONAL, y’all.
A Product of His Time.
As fun as it is to show Al Mohler projecting his own faults onto women, we return now to real talk.
Al Mohler represents a product of his era. In his youth, evangelical leaders sold him a turnkey operation: a fusion of evangelicalism with fundamentalism. But that fusion served a goal. The goal was nothing less than rulership over America by creating their own self-created Utopia and forcing it on everyone else.
Their–and very quickly his–vision took the form of a totalitarian, perfect Christo-fascist society ruled by evangelicals. This fantasy runs according to their rules, with leaders they like best creating and administering laws they think honor and mimic their childish bastardization of the Bible.
In evangelicals’ fantasy world, Americans wear 1950s clothes and act like extras in Leave It To Beaver. But these extras’ religious devotion looks way more like The Handmaid’s Tale.
What The Problem Really Is.
Almost no differences exist between the behavior of TRUE CHRISTIANS™ and that of the unwashed heathens whose existence they sadly endure till Jesus returns to straight-up murder all of their enemies.
For all Al Mohler’s whining, even evangelicals themselves slowly slip out of his grasp. That’s why he drills down so hard on his tribe’s cynically-engineered culture wars. For evangelical leaders, culture wars have always represented a reliable means of gaining more power in a dysfunctional tribe lacking objective truth and compassion.
In his essay, Al Mohler talks directly to his fellow white male Southern Baptist followers. He tells them women only resist their control-grabs cuz they’re all emotional and can’t think like men can (/s). He tells them that women desperately need their help to see the light.
And how very, very lucky for women that evangelicals like Al Mohler are willing to lower themselves enough to do the job! They’ll be sure to force women to understand, by legal coercion if necessary, how wonderful it’d totally be if they lost control over every single intimate decision they’ll ever need to make.
He’d do all this for women for their own good. Really! Oh no, he totally wouldn’t grab control of their lives because he’s a sick sexist creep who really hates losing power. No no!
Wait, why aren’t women listening to him? Time to pull out his big gun!
NEXT UP: Mine’s bigger.
See you next time!
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To keep things straight between which links and studies I discussed, I re-linked them where it seemed appropriate.
/s represents a “sarcasm tag.”
That “Next Up” made Mr. Captain choke on his drink. It’s also true, from a certain point of view. Just sayin’.