“Religions and Babies”

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Speaking on religion when it comes to fertility rates is touchy. Often individuals and governments do not like to hear the studies that conclude certain religions may be the cause of more or less children per woman. But in a TED talk on Religions and Babies, Hans Rosling argues that religions do not play into fertility rates trends at all. In fact, it is these four factors that lower fertility rates –

“Babies per Woman decrease when…
1. Children survive
2. Many children are not needed for work
3. Women get education and join the labor force
4. Family planning is accessible”

As is often the case, I couldn’t agree more with Rosling. These four factors, particularly the survival of children, have been proven to reduce fertility rates. Not coincidently, these factors occur as countries better develop their healthcare systems and bustling economies. As infant mortality rates drop, the use of child labor in the household becomes less necessary. And as women get proper education and employment opportunities along with accessibility to family planning methods, households feel less pressure and less responsibility to have many children.

Rosling’s theory on a future population plateau aligns with most speculations, arguing in very simple terms (through his favorite visual tool of boxes) that as counties with high numbers of babies per woman further develop, fertility rates will slow and eventually meet those that are already at replacement levels. Thus these dropping rates will create a world population plateau somewhere around 9 billion.

But I must disagree with him that religion and fertility rates have no correlation. While this doesn’t contradict the theory on future replacement levels, it may slow down the timeframe in which Rosling proposes global replacement levels will be reached. The number of babies per woman is weighted by cultural norms and community pressures. When the average number of babies per woman in a small town in Somalia hovers around 7, young women and new mothers see this as the expected standard. And unquestionably in the countries with the highest fertility rates, such as Niger, Mali, Uganda, Afghanistan, South Sudan, etc., religion still has an enormous influence on culture and societal expectations. If practices such as polygamy or the lack of use of contraception remain common conventions in certain religions, areas that densely practice these religions will continue to see higher fertility rates, arguably adding a fifth factor to the above list affecting babies per woman: breaking out of traditional, societal expectations.

And of course here’s Gapminder to replicate the data graphs from the video above and play around with different data sets as well!

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