Pew Research released a survey on the Global Views on Morality, asking adults in each of several countries whether the following activities were morally unacceptable: Extramarital Affairs, Homosexuality, Abortion, Premarital Sex, Divorce, and Contraception Use (they also asked about Alcohol Use and Gambling which I don’t here consider).
This is a good opportunity to see how Sexual Immorality and Birth Rate might tie together, possibly moderated by religion. I found 2014 birth rates from the CIA Fact Book, and the percent of Christian and Muslim residents, also from Pew but reprinted on Wikipedia.
I defined (average) Sexual Immorality as one minus the simple sum of the answers to the six sexuality questions, all divided by six. Higher numbers meant cultures in which it was more likely to find sexual immoral adults.
There is some error in this, probably to the extent that the best we could do is to approximate Sexual Immorality to only the nearest decimal point. Everything I show are also only crude correlations; causal connections, while plausible in the direction indicated by the correlations, are almost certainly weaker than the correlations.
Each of the six individual items correlated to Birth Rate in the way you would imagine: greater approval of each aspect of Sexual Immorality led to lower Birth Rates. Acceptance of Homosexuality and Abortion had the tightest correlations, i.e. had the great diminution on Birth Rates; Extramarital Affairs had the least but still-noticeable effect.
The clearest picture emerged when considering Sexual Immorality as a whole, presented here:
The horizontal line is drawn at the “replacement” Birth Rate. All highly sexually immoral countries (Sexual Immorality 0.7 or higher) have birth rates below replacement levels. Unless these countries make it up by massive immigration, they’ll soon see population deficits.
All but one country with low Sexual Immorality (less than 0.3) had high birth rates. The United States had a birth rate of 2.01 and Sexual Immorality of 0.62.
Here is a table of Sexual Immorality and Birth Rate by country:
France leads the bottom and Pakistan takes top honors. France still has a somewhat high birth rate, but it also for a once Christian nation has a comparatively high Muslim population (around 8%) which is driving some of that number. Even a glance at the table suggests religion, particularly the difference between Christian and Muslim religions, might have something to do with explaining the ranks.
The data available is admittedly crude and only measures affiliation and not intensity. These next two plots show the fractions of Christian and Muslim and Sexual Immortality. Obviously, there are other religions, but there aren’t enough countries with other religions to make comparative plots worthwhile.
Take your time with these plots. Notice that within majority Christian nations, increasing Christianity is associated with lower Sexual Immortality. France only has 63% Christian, a shocking fall from its once top spot. But then France was the birth place of the Revolution against human nature. Germany is close behind. The Philippines, and even several African countries like Kenya, Uganda, and Ghana are all highly Christian and have low Sexual Immorality.
The second plot shows that all countries with majority Muslim populations have low Sexual Immorality. And of course not all of these live by strict Sharia law. It’s also worth noting that of those countries that are majority Christian, the only ones with low Sexual Immorality are still considered “developing” countries.
The three countries with the largest populations with different top religions are China (52% unaffiliated, but increasingly Christian; Sexual Immorality of 0.55), India (80% Hindu; Sexual Immorality of 0.45), and Japan (57% “unaffiliated”; Sexual Immorality of 0.72).
I don’t think there are any surprises in these data. The last remains to make predictions. If these correlations are a guide, the less religious a country becomes the more sexual immoral it will be. It is not clear which drives which; probably both drive each other. And the more sexual immoral a culture is, the fewer babies it will produce.
Update This plot shows the total fraction of Christian + Muslim (starting at 0.5). The influence of religion on Sexual Immorality is now very clear.
Update I imagine that if I had called “Sexual Immorality” “Pew Questions on Reproduction” there would be a lot less angst. Feelings run high when you tell some people certain behaviors are immoral. Some people on Twitter became apoplectic at the very suggestion.
Everybody (willfully?) missed where I said, “There is some error in this, probably to the extent that the best we could do is to approximate Sexual Immorality to only the nearest decimal point. Everything I show are also only crude correlations; causal connections, while plausible in the direction indicated by the correlations, are almost certainly weaker than the correlations.”
But this does not imply these causal connections are impossible. As I said to Chinahand in the comments, if you express support for homosexuality and act in that fashion, you will not reproduce. If you express support for abortion and have one, you will kill your offspring and not increase the birth rate. If you express support for contraception and use it, then you will lower the birth rate. If you express support for extramarital affairs and have one, you will have less time for your own family and consequently increase your chance for disease and so forth, all of which tends to lower the birth rate.
And so on. Anything that interferes with human mating will necessarily lower the birth rate. Masturbation (Pew didn’t ask this), homosexuality, contraception, divorce, and so on directly interfere with human mating, therefore these all tend to lower the birth rate.
Education cannot lower the birth rate, and I’m surprised readers suggest that it can. Knowing the year Martin Luther King was killed, or the atomic weight of iodine, or how to read a financial statement does not interfere with human mating. Being educated about contraception might induce one to try it, that’s true. But it is the contraception itself that lowers the birth rate, not the knowledge of it.
Money cannot lower the birth rate. Higher or lower GDPs cannot lower the birth rate. And again I’m taken aback to see the suggestions that it can. Money is associated with education, it’s true. But education, as shown, cannot lower the birth rate. The bias inhibited in the suggestions money or education could lower birth rates is also surprising: everybody assumes the effect of education must only be in the direction of increased sexual liberty. This is false, as is I hope now obvious.
As I admitted, more than once, the attitudes on sexuality are only correlated with birth rates, but it is surely more than plausible that at least some persons expressing positive support for abortion, contraception, etc. will engage in these acts. If they do, the birth rate goes south.
I also admitted other things could lower the birth rate, but didn’t specify any mechanisms. Disease is one. But since Western countries have lower disease rates than “undeveloped” countries, it is not plausible that disease is what accounts for the decreasing birth rates in the Western world.
War is another cause, indirectly: anything which keeps people from the act of mating can be a cause. Again, lack of opportunity is not plausible in Western countries. It could be that avarice and culture plays a role in, say, keeping men (such as in Japan) staying at the office all hours, reducing the chance of mating. Abstinence lowers birth rates.
Religion cannot cause an increase or decrease in the birth rate, because religion is a form of education. But religious education teaches that the Pew questions, so to speak, are immoral. And if people act on this education by eschewing abortion, contraception, extramarital affairs, divorce, and homosexuality, then the birth rate will tend to increase. And this is what the data shows, or at least strongly suggests.
What really set people off is the remark that certain activities are immoral. “Don’t you tell me what’s right and wrong!” Well, have it your way. But nothing in any of the results change if you want to believe these activities are not immoral.
Update A conversation with statistician Stephen Senn reminded me that improved medicine can increase birth rates by lowering infant mortality. But Western medicine is the best, so the Western rates, if we could conceive of removing the effects of superior medicine, are even lower relative to non-Western rates. He also reminds that some might have fewer children if they expect their existing children will survive. This is so, in part. But since it’s probably not abstinence these confident couples practice, but contraception, this doesn’t change the conclusion that contraception is what causes lower birth rates. How or why contraception is a separate question (Western education tends to encourage its use, while religious education tends to discourage it).
Update See also: Decadence Data: Or, A Doomed Demos Dances.