Sunday, April 09, 2006

Demography and Religion in India

by Edward Hugh

There has been some debate in comments about the role of religion in influencing the numbers of children that people actually have. Globally the evidence is very contradictory. Here in Europe those societies which might be thought to be among the more religious traditionally - Italy, Spain, Poland - now have lowest-low fertility levels, while, of course, secular France and Sweden have rather higher fertility. In the US many feel that the presence of large numbers of practising believers exerts an influence, yet, as I am often at pains to point out, one of the principal reasons why some US women have rather more children is that they start early, indeed very early, in adolesence. I find it difficult to square teenage pregancy with especially devout behaviour, but then maybe that is just me.

Now from India comes some in depth research from Sryia Iyer and her book, Demography and Religion in India. She aksks the question do religious beliefs significantly affect demographic behaviour, and her answer seems to be an unequivocal no. The important issue is, as we find time and time again, access to education. As the abstract states:

This book asks: Do religious beliefs significantly affect demographic behaviour? It examines the theological content of Islam and Hinduism in the context of population growth. It also offers quantitative evidence that religious differences in fertility and two of its proximate determinants, contraceptive choice and the age at marriage, are in fact, due to differences in socio-economic characteristics, such as access to education. The econometric analysis is based on fieldwork carried out among Hindu, Muslim, and Christian women in India. The determinants of women's age at first marriage, their contraceptive choices and their fertility are modelled and then analysed, drawing inferences for population policy.


dutchmarbel said...

I'll continue in this thread then :)

I absolutely agree with the fact that education is much more an influence than religion - but religion sometimes is an influence on education. Which is why I used Afghanistan and Iran as an example.

In the Netherlands a lot of muslim migrants come from Turkey and Marocco and, especially in the latter group, are very low-educated. After a few years you see the fertility rates of those groups move down though.

They do impact the general perception of muslim women, and of course many muslim countries *are* countries that are poor and have a culture that will not encourage many women to get better education. Which is why many people assume that muslims, like oldfashioned (poor) catholics, are steered by religion in these area's.

Sidenote: in the Netherlands our (protestant) biblebelt has a higher fertility rate too. I have not seen figures about the female education level in the biblebelt but you can guess what my theory is :)

Edward said...

"I absolutely agree with the fact that education is much more an influence than religion - but religion sometimes is an influence on education."

Evidently, there is a feedback loop. The big issue I suppose is which is primary. My feeling is that the level of education is ultimately driven by other parts of the social system like technological change (take the spread of the mobile phone in the third world, eg), and the way these interact with the economic system via eg relative prices, or wages through labour market interaction.

Clearly there is a tipping point somewhere, and after this the 'tansition' process is initiated. Before this you seem to get stuck in some kind of 'bad equilibrium' of which religious belief undoubtedly forms a part. But it is not any particular religion, it is some pattern of religious beliefs in general.

If we look at high fertility societies - Saudi Arabia, Cambodia, Bhutan, Haiti, Pakistan, Laos, Kenya, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Iraq, Senegal, Sudan, Madagascar, Comoros, Togo, Eritrea, Mozambique, Gambia, Mayotte, Rwanda
Tanzania, Zambia, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mauritania, Benin, Burkina Faso, Yemen, Congo, Chad, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Malawi,Congo Dem. Rep. of, Burundi, Angola, Liberia, Afghanistan, Uganda, Somalia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger (this is the list from 4.5 to 8.0 in order of rank) - what we can see are regional patterns, and comparable socio-economic conditions rather than direct religious correlation.

Interestingly Latin America is largely absent from this list, which must be good news for that continent. Guatemala just misses the list, as do Nicaragua and Bolivia. Still in the relatively high fertility zone are Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Venezuela, Panama and Peru.

Curiously Mexico at 2.6 now has a lower average TFR than the hispanic population in the US (2.8). This may be a reflection of the social origins of the migrants going to the US now from Mexico.

The general pattern is that the indigenous population in Latin America now has far higher fertility than the rest, and this is producing demographic changes with political consequences, as we have seen in Bolivia and are now witnessing in Peru.

Generally, you need to understand that migrants start to flow out as countries pass through the transition, and not normally before, so that you should expect a very noticeable change in the migrants arriving in the US (and Spain) over the coming years, while the flows which originate in Sub-Saharan Africa (remember the Magreb is nearly done in these terms) will be a European issue.

Curiously again, for reasons of history and geography, Spain seems positioned to be the European gateway (the Texas) for both these flows.

Edward said...

"in the Netherlands our (protestant) biblebelt has a higher fertility rate too."

This raises of course hugely important issues, since this brings us to the case of the US, and of whether they are justified in being so confident that they will be immune to a rapid fall in fertility over a 20 to 30 time frame.

My feeling is that they aren't, but that people in the US are unable, for some reason or other to hear this message right now.

Interestingly a US economist who is quite well known in the demography field (but who I won't name since I haven't asked him) sent me this important snippet at the weekend:

"Here is an issue that I have not seen addressed in my brief perusal of the "homeostatis" literature: what about heterogeneity of preferences within the population? Suppose that I have a population with 90% people with low fertility preferences (in the current economic environment) and 10% higher fertility preferences (orthodox Jews, Mormons, etc.) In the next generation, the mix shifts toward the high fertility types. This can be a source of homeostatis... (In a Malthusian equilibrium, subgroups that pursue the R and K strategies will have the same NRR -- that is, 1. But now that we are no longer in a Malthusian equilibrium, it seems like the high fertility strategy will come to dominate. This ends up sounding like eugenics of the early 20th century, of course)."

Now all of this is really interesting, but I think it basically doesn't work, and for the reasons you are suggesting. Essentially you have to assume that the religious groups maintain there patterns across generations (ie there are no defections among the offspring). In general I think that the socio-economic level of these groups would then tend to trend downwards, since the low fertility outcome is at some level the result of a process where people have fewer offspring so as to invest more in each (a kind of souping-up of the K strategy).

I think it is important here to remember that for a population to sustain a TFR of say three, you really do need a lot of women having 5 children or more to compensate for those who don't marry, have non-hetero sexual orientations, are infertile, don't live to reproductive age etc.

Sustaining childbirth of 5 or above is really biologically quite difficult if you don't start early, and if you don't use artificial fertilisation later (and again here religious issues may turn ironically enough anti-fertility).

Having children from an early age is normally not strongly compatible with high levels of gender equality or with increasing levels of female attainment in the labour market.

Obviously some of the more affluent members of certain religious communities are able to sustain some measure of gender equality and multiple births by effectively outsourcing the 'mothering', this would be the case of some members of the politically influential Opus Dei community here in Spain (although José Maria Aznar has, I think it is true to say, only fathered two children). But even when these nucleii sustain small numbers of females with very high parities the overall effect on fertility is negligable.

Another solution is of course centralised subsidies to thos communities known to have relatively higher fertility. I have the impression that this happens to some extent in the United States via the deployment of certain classes of agricultural subsidies (see the point about the relocation of the meat packaging industry in my last Latinos post). So populations with relatively lower economic worth (in the interior of a country) may be sustained in relatively higher level lifestyles by redistributing the economic proceeds of the activity of a more productive (and of course lower fertility) population (on the coast).

Anonymous said...

Curiously Mexico at 2.6 now has a lower average TFR than the hispanic population in the US (2.8). This may be a reflection of the social origins of the migrants going to the US now from Mexico.

Another factor might be high TFR's among non-Mexican Hispanic immigrants (Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Dominicans etc.)

Iron Rails & Iron Weights

Edward said...

"Another factor might be high TFR's among non-Mexican Hispanic immigrants (Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Dominicans etc.)"

Well I think you raise a very important point here, since there is little discussion of the importance of the non Mexican origins of an increasing proportion of the most recent waves of migrants, but as it happens there does seem to be Mexican specific data on these short term fertility trends. If you are interested, this paper covers the relevant ground:

Anonymous said...

"I find it difficult to square teenage pregancy with especially devout behaviour, but then maybe that is just me."

It can be squared fairly easily and is even supported (in the US, at least) by statistics. Teenagers are going to screw regardless of their religious orientation. Teenagers who come from fundamentalist backgrounds don't have access to sex ed or birth control and are, therefore, far more likely to get pregnant.

Dr. Michael Blume said...

Thanks for the interesting tip. At the moment, studies about the reproductive benefits of religiosity are gaining momentum, especially in Europe (some countries there having censusses incorporating religious affiliation).