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Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Religiosity and Higher Fertility Amongst Muslims

Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King

Many commentators and researchers have long noted an association between religious adherence and a seeming preference for large families, but most of these studies have focused on Jewish and Christian populations. Now, researchers out of Israel seek to assess how religious adherence effects the fertility of Muslim women.

The researchers begin their study by acknowledging that in the state of Israel, Muslims made up 16.7% of the population in 2007, and were thus an important segment of the population to study. Furthermore, in 1960-69, Muslims in Israel had a fertility rate of 9.2, one of the highest in the world. (It has since dropped to 3.3—still higher than many parts of the world.)

To investigate the question of religious adherence and its relationship to fertility, the researchers use data from Tamra, a town in western Galilee, which in 2008 had a total population of 28,100. Almost all of Tamra’s inhabitants are Muslim. After some adjustments, the researchers were left with a data set of 830 Muslim women.

To assess religiosity, the researchers asked the women surveyed “about the extent to which they adhere to the Five Pillars of Islam or duties incumbent on every Muslim: the confession of faith, praying five times a day, alms-giving, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca.” In using answers to these questions, the researchers seek to distinguish between the concepts of religious identity and religious practice, as they suspect the latter will more closely impact fertility. The researchers measured the womens’ age, marital duration, and parity. They also took into account education, which has been known to affect fertility behavior in other populations, and also labor-force participation (which is insignificant in this case because almost no married women worked outside the home). The researchers used multilevel binomial regression “to assess the effects of religiosity and other covariates on the probability of giving birth in a specific year.” 

The results indicate that, like many other religious, Islam seems to be correlated with higher fertility levels. In their results section, the researchers explain, “A trained religious teacher in Israel explained that the belief Islam forbids contraception ‘is actually a very common misconception.’ . . . Evidence for this ‘misconception’ can also be found in Tamra: A third of the respondents think that Islam opposes family limitation.” 

In Tamra, the completed fertility of women born in the 1950s and who answered that they adhere to all Five Pillars of Islam is 5.9 births, compared to 5.0 births among women who acknowledge themselves to be less religious. The researchers find that some of this difference relates to marital duration, as the very religious women married an average of two years earlier than did the not-as-religious women. “However,” they continue, “differences remain after controlling for age at marriage.” For all women, they conclude, “Religiosity has a very significant positive effect on the odds of giving birth. The first model shows that the odds of a religious woman giving birth are more than a third higher than the odds of other women.” This is true even after controlling for marital duration and levels of education.

This study is a valuable contribution to the literature on religion and fertility. It demonstrates that just like Christianity and Judaism, Islam also seems to inspire a greater openness to children than is seen in the secular world.

(Jona Schellekens and A’as Atrash, “Religiosity and marital fertility among Muslims in Israel,” Demographic Research 39.34 [October 2018]: 10.4054/DemRes.2018.39.34, Web.)