The Fertility Gap

CHARLES COLSON

Among Western industrialized nations we are in the middle of what one observer calls a "global baby bust"—except, that is, among devout Christian families.

Every time you turn around, a presidential candidate whips out his Bible—or a position paper—to let us know how faithful he or she is. Senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) says God "would be happy with the fact that" he's focused on people without health care. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) says we should "discuss religion . . . in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another." Republicans, also, are quick to point out how faith informs their policies.

Clearly, the candidates are appealing to America's religious voters—and they are smart to do so. As one social scientist recently noted, they are going to need religious voters for the long term—because Christians are having far more children than their secular neighbors.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, social scientist Arthur Brooks notes that if you pick 100 adults out of the population who attend their houses of worship nearly every week, they would have 223 children among them. But among 100 people who attend religious services less than once a year—or never—you would find 158 kids. That's a 41 percent fertility gap between religious and secular people.

Even worse—if you are a secularist—religious people who identify themselves as politically "conservative" or "very conservative" are having, on average, an astonishing 78 percent more kids than secular liberals, Brooks writes.


Rodney Stark describes ways in which religious belief affected population growth and decline. Pagans believed in abortion; Christians forbade it. Christianity also prohibited infanticide. But as for pagans, Stark told Touchstone magazine: "We've unearthed sewers clogged with the bones of newborn girls." So, "Christians didn't have the enormous shortage of women that plagued the rest of the empire."


This is significant, because kids tend to grow up to worship the way their parents do. In a generation or two, we are going to have a bumper crop of conservative citizens. Candidates who appeal to Christians will win more elections simply because of demographics.

This is not the first time in history we have seen the demographic power of the Church. Take, for example, ancient Rome.

In his book The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark describes ways in which religious belief affected population growth and decline. Pagans believed in abortion; Christians forbade it. Christianity also prohibited infanticide. But as for pagans, Stark told Touchstone magazine: "We've unearthed sewers clogged with the bones of newborn girls." So, "Christians didn't have the enormous shortage of women that plagued the rest of the empire."

And pagan husbands engaged in adultery, polygamy, and divorce, but Christianity forbade these things. So, Christian marriages tended to be more loving, more faithful, and more open to children.

We see parallels today between the modern West and ancient Rome. The low pagan fertility rate meant that Rome needed to import workers—and soldiers—from the farthest reaches of the empire and beyond. Rome lost its social cohesion. So, Rome fell. The Christian Church survived because believers had been multiplying. And what is going to cause Christianity to recover in the modern West may be precisely the same phenomenon.

For the last half century, Western industrialized nations, fearing overpopulation and despoiling the planet, have made slowing population growth one of their top priorities. So now we are in the middle of what one observer calls a "global baby bust"—except, that is, among devout Christian families, those who take seriously the biblical mandate to "be fruitful and multiply." It shows that when Christians live out the biblical worldview, we not only survive, we thrive.

For Further Reading and Information

Arthur C. Brooks, “The Fertility Gap,” Wall Street Journal, 22 August 2006.

Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (HarperOne, 1997).

A Double Take on Early Christianity,” Touchstone, January/February 2000.

BreakPoint Commentary No. 060418, “Be Fruitful and Multiply: Christians and the ‘Birth Dearth’.”

Phillip Longman, “The Global Baby Bust,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2004.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Charles Colson. "The Fertility Gap." BreakPoint Commentary September 12, 2007.

From BreakPoint ® (12/09/2007), Copyright 2000, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries, P.O. Box 17500, Washington, D.C. 20041-0500. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint ®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries ®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

THE AUTHOR

Charles Colson launched Prison Fellowship in 1976, following a seven-month prison sentence for Watergate-related crimes. Since then, Prison Fellowship has flourished into a U.S. ministry of 50,000 volunteers and has spread to more then 50 countries. Beyond his prison ministry, Colson is a Christian author, speaker, and commentator, who regularly confronts contemporary values from a biblically informed perspective. His "BreakPoint" radio commentaries now air daily across the U.S. and he has written 14 books, including Loving God, Answers to Your Kids' Questions, The Line Between Right & Wrong: Developing a Personal Code of Ethics, Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages, and How Now Shall We Live: A Study Guide.

Copyright © 2007 Breakpoint



Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter

 

 

Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.