Religious Affiliation, Religiosity, and Male and Female Fertility

By Zhang, Li | Demographic Research, January-June 2008 | Go to article overview

Religious Affiliation, Religiosity, and Male and Female Fertility


Zhang, Li, Demographic Research


Abstract

Religious studies of fertility typically focus on the effect of religious affiliation on fertility; the role of religiosity in determining fertility remains overlooked. Meanwhile, most studies focus on studying female fertility; whether religion and religiosity have significantly different impacts on men's and women's fertility rarely has been examined. To fill these gaps, this study uses data from the 2002 NSFG Cycle 6 on religious affiliation, religiosity, and children ever born (CEB) for both men and women to investigate the effects of religious affiliation and religiosity on male and female fertility. A series of hypotheses which aim to demonstrate the critical role of religiosity, particularly the importance of religious beliefs in people's daily life in shaping people's fertility behavior are tested. The findings show a shrinking pattern of fertility differentials among religious groups. However, religiosity, particularly religious beliefs, shows a substantially positive effect on fertility. The gender interaction terms are not significant which indicates that the effects of religion and religiosity on fertility do not vary by gender.

1. Introduction

Most religious and demographic studies of religion and fertility in the United States elaborate female fertility differentials among people who are affiliated with various religious denominations (Janssen and Hauser 1981; Lehrer 1996; Lehrer 2004; Marcum 1988; Mosher, Johnson, and Horn 1986; Poston 1990). Catholics often are reported as having a particularly high level of fertility. Protestants' fertility is shown to be lower than that of Catholics and is located in the middle of the continuum. Non-Orthodox Jews are at the end of the continuum and have consistently shown the lowest fertility rate among all religious groups in the U.S. (Lehrer 2004; Sander 1993). In recent years, however, demographers have reported that fertility differences among Catholics and other religious groups have been shrinking, and that Protestants' fertility tends to be higher than that of Catholics and other religious groups (Mosher, Johnson, and Horn 1986; National Center for Health Statistics 2005; Westoff and Jones 1979).

Four principal hypotheses have been proposed in the literature of religious studies of fertility to explain these fertility differentials, namely, (1) the particularized theology hypothesis, (2) the characteristics hypothesis, (3) the minority status hypothesis, and (4) the social interaction hypothesis (Chamie 1981; McQuillan 2004). The particularized theology hypothesis views fertility differentials as a result of specific doctrinal differences among religions. According to this perspective, religious groups whose doctrines are against contraception and abortion and favor a large family size should have a higher fertility rate. For those religious groups who do not have such doctrines, the fertility rate should be lower. Examples of religious groups with these doctrines include Roman Catholics, fundamentalist Protestants, Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), and Amish. Religious groups who have no proscriptions on birth control are, for example, mainstream Protestants and Jews (Jurecki-Tiller 2004). Empirical research has provided some evidence for the particularized theology hypothesis by demonstrating that mainstream Protestants and Jews have higher levels of contraceptive use and lower fertility rates compared to Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants (De Jong 1965; Freedman, Whelpton, and Campbell 1961; Mosher and Hendershot 1984; Mosher, Williams, and Johnson 1992).

The characteristics hypothesis argues that fertility differentials among religious groups are not caused by religious doctrines. Rather, demographic and socioeconomic differentials of the members of religious groups result in their fertility differences. Once demographic and socioeconomic statuses of religious groups are controlled, fertility differentials among religious groups should disappear. …

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