Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Kids Today, with their Music and their Haircuts!

During my discussions of fertility, birth rates, population decline, and the future, I have been fairly direct in my conclusions – the future population of the Earth will be smaller and more religious. I have had a surprising number of people counter that religious and political beliefs are not a matter of parentage, but of ideology. As one person stated ‘just because your parents are religious and Conservative doesn’t mean you will be’. Granted, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that some people from religious homes grow up to be atheists. And some people raised atheists become religious.

Statistically, however, the children of parents with ‘identifiable beliefs’ (i.e., they have an opinion on politics or religion strong enough to express it) are most likely to share their parents’ beliefs when they reach adulthood. The development of your political and religious outlook, called political socialization and religious socialization respectively, has been studied, especially in the last 25 years or so, and shows that most adults reflect the religious and political attitudes of their parents. The various ‘socialization factors’ that lead to our ideological development include family, school, peer groups, major events, workplace, marriage, etc. By far the most critical factor is the family, especially since the vast majority of political and religious beliefs are developed in childhood. Even the second most influential element, school, pales in comparison, even when attempts are made to directly influence political outlook with concerted school efforts. Indeed, researchers are coming to suspect that the main influence of school is as an environment where children learn the skills needed to promote and defend the beliefs developed at home. Thus, while major changes in life (leaving home for college, entering the military, marriage and parenthood) can cause something called ‘resocialization’, or seemingly-dramatic changes is behavior and outlook, the large majority of adults mirror the political and religious beliefs of their parents. Research also indicates that, for children of Conservatives or Liberals, the majority of those who do not mirror family beliefs become moderates, not members of the opposite extreme.

There is some evidence that Liberals/Mainline Religious families have lower rates of positive socialization (i.e., their kids are more likely to not be Liberals than Conservative children are to not be Conservatives). This seems to be especially true of Mainline Religious families who may have Liberal children, but those children are less likely to be religious. The biggest problem for Mainline Protestants and religious socialization is that Mainline Protestants are usually intermittent church-goers, and thus their children are less likely to be religious.

In brief: Liberals are likely to have Liberals kids and Conservatives are likely to have Conservative kids, but a higher percentage of Conservatives’ kids are like their parents. Devout parents tend to have devout kids, but lukewarm parents tend to have unchurched kids. Got it? OK.

Let us draw some conclusions. Given identical populations and birthrates, over time there would be a tendency of a group to slowly become more Conservative, since Conservatives have a slightly higher positive political socialization. Concurrently the level of religious participation would tend to sort out into devout and unchurched with fewer and fewer ‘sometimes’ attendees.

This leads to the second argument that I tend to hear: ‘If socialization patterns favor Conservatism’, I am asked, ‘why the dominance of Liberal ideas in the 20th Century?’ The answer to this lies in another element of political socialization – major political events. Let’s skip the potentially-huge discussion of if the Democrats were really Liberal (as we currently use the term) pre-WWII and focus on a few events [This also allows me to skip the discussion of ethnic alignment with political party and its decline, etc.]. The first is the Great Depression. This led to a slight preference towards Democrats because of their support of social welfare programs. This tendency was reversing itself when the next political event came along, Vietnam. Opposition to the draft led many young adults to become Liberals. In both cases, major events led to a slight increase in political socialization towards the Left.

However, even with these major events, and supporting events like Watergate, there was never a dominance of either Democratic Party or Liberal/Leftist influence in America. The nation leaned Right from 1900 to 1930 and even with the landslide Democratic victories in 1930 and 1932 a coalition of Conservative Democrats allied with Republicans regained dominance of both houses of Congress by 1937 and maintained that dominance for almost 40 years. Even the post-Watergate presidential election of 1976 was amazingly close, with less than a 2% difference in the winners. Ronald Reagan’s historic landslides and the Republican Revolution of the ‘90’sshow that even when baby-boomers were in their most politically-active phase that Conservatism was very strong in America, as it remains today.

To put it another way, there was no dominance of Liberal ideas in the 20th Century. In my opinion, the late 19th and early- to mid- 20th Centuries are remarkable for the (relatively limited) levels of success Liberal/Left ideas actually enjoyed.

Besides, the growth of Socialism, Communism, major wars, and political scandals and their cumulative bolstering of the Left all pale in comparison to the effects of demographic shift in the last 40 years.

The facts are clear – Liberals have fewer children than Conservatives. Much more directly, the devoutly religious have many more children than the non-religious, and the impact of religiosity on fertility seems to be growing over time. A study out of Australia illustrates how the impact of this cannot be understated. The study tracked a group of women from age 30 to age 40. It found that 22% were childless, 16% had one child, 35% had two children, 20% had three children, and 7% had more than three children. This means that 27% of the women accounted for more than 50% of the children. When the demographic, economic, and social factors were examined, the researchers found some interesting facts; women who had not cohabitated before marriage were more than 2.5 times more likely to have 3 or more children than women who had; women who had not planned their first child were over 1.5 times as likely to have 3 or more children than women who planned their first child; Catholic women were over 1.5 times more likely to have 3 or more children than non-Catholics. Toss in that starting young and having more than one child before being 28 also increased the chances of a woman have more than 3 kids, and you see a clear pattern - Catholic women who marry young and start having children early are having much more impact on the future than their own numbers indicate.

Using the generic “80% of children share their parents’ political and religious affiliation” (instead of the ‘97% of the children of very devout homeschooling Conservatives share their parents’ values’) that means that about 40% of the next generation will behave in a similar fashion, representing a 50% growth in relative numbers in a single generation. With Australia’s TFR of about 1.6 these political and social impacts will come faster than they will in America with its higher TFR and immigration, but those changes will be reflected in every nation with a negative TFR.

In the end, I stand by my position, which is: the demographic shift we are currently experiencing will lead to population that is increasingly religious and Conservative.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

I agree with much of your reasoning, but I am not sure I go all the way with you to those conclusions.

First, historical events have a way of throwing all predictions into a cocked hat. The birthrate in the developed countries has actually been declining since 1800 - largely because of increased child survival. (There are several other known factors, but I should use my own blog for that and not clutter up yours). But after WWII the birthrate soared temporarily - particularly in the nations that won. Understandable in retrospect, but not foreseeable.

George Wiegel has suggested that optimism is a driving force in having more children, and religion is the most common driver of optimism.

Among the religious families that I know, their children have certainly tended strongly to be religious, but there is a major caveat: the families which had sharp disconnects between religious ideology and moral practice have seen enormous defections from the faith. This is hardly surprising. I consider that a wildcard demographically, because there's no way to measure that for predictive purposes.

I recognise the difficulty of terms when discussing "liberals," and "liberal ideas." Classical liberals are rather conservative these days, as a belief in freedom, merit, or individual rights has migrated away from the hard left. Still, I think you mixed them somewhat.

The general principle, that unless outside forces intervene, the percentage of conservative, religious citizens will naturally rise, I agree with. It's that "outside forces" part that gives me pause. There are always some in every generation.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the 1st comment here, though I think these "outside forces" may draw away enough children from religious parents - which in turn draws away their children and their children's children - that the trend will be actually be a continued decrease in devout religious in the population.

Also what happens when a conservative and a liberal marry? Do the children tend to be "moderate" or in the middle or do they tend to one side or the other?

Deep Thought said...

the influence of outside forces is mainly responsible for the 20% or so who *do* change their minds. And families with no dominant political or other ideological belief seem to be the parents of 'centrist voters'!