The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Religion, Social Conservatism, and Fertility

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

Looking at another factor that drives American fertility, researchers at Arizona State University and Duke University explore why women who say that religion is “very important in their daily life” report both higher intended fertility and higher actual fertility. Crunching data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), Sarah Hayford and Philip Morgan find that such women, relative to women who deemed religion as either “somewhat important” or “not important,” are far more likely to express conservative attitudes regarding family life and sexual behavior.

Among the findings they report: Among the 7,643 women, ages 15-44, interviewed in the 2002 wave of the NSFG, 50 percent said that religion is very important to them. Moreover, Protestants (65 percent) were more likely than Catholics (49 percent) to express such a sentiment. Among Protestants, 70 percent of Baptists reported religion being very important, as did 80 percent of “fundamentalist” Protestants.

As might be expected, young religious women (ages 18-24) have higher intended fertility than their peers, but older religious women (ages 40-44) report both higher intended fertility and higher numbers of children ever born. Among this older group, completed fertility is .4 children higher than their peers who claim religion is somewhat important and .8 children higher than their peers who are not religious. Calculations of the total fertility rate (TFR), based upon births between 1997 and 2002, found that women who said religion is very important would average 2.3 children in their lifetime; those who were somewhat religious, 2.1; and those who were not religious, 1.8.

Statistical models using data limited to women, ages 20-24, found that the differences between intended fertility of the three categories of religiosity were statistically significant (at the .001 level). To determine what accounts for these religious differences, the sociologists conducted a test that includes the impact of a socially conservative attitude index, based upon answers to thirteen questions of family formation and sexuality, on intended fertility. In this model, only the difference between the religious and not religious remained significant. On average, a one-point increase in the index yielded an increase in intended family size of .12 children. Because of the association with social conservatism, religion, and intended fertility was consistent across each of the thirteen questions, the sociologists believe their findings confirm a “conceptual link,” documented by other scholars in other areas of family life, between religion and social conservatism.

While none of these findings are surprising, they do suggest that religion and social conservatism, given their role in boosting fertility, offer greater promise for America than they are given credit for.

(Sarah R. Hayford and S. Philip Morgan, “Religiosity and Fertility in the United States: The Role of Fertility Intentions,”Social Forces 86.3 [March 2008]: 1163-88.)