Religious people are breeding, producing more religion….(?)

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I’ve pointed to the World Values Survey before. It comes in 5 waves spaced out over 2 decades, and has substantial, if not total, coverage. Additionally, for many non-developed countries the educational data to me suggest some high SES skew in terms of representativeness (though spot checking the American data that looks very representative, as there have been other national surveys you can cross-reference it with). On some of my blogs a few commenters have started to follow up posts and use the WVS to answer questions, instead of offering of speculations. It’s not as complicated of an interface as the GSS, but it isn’t as flexible either. Nevertheless, there are some obvious questions one might ask.

For example in general within societies the religious have more offspring than the non-religious. Even controlling for variables there is often a significant effect. That implies that over time if religiosity is heritable (whether biologically or culturally) societies should become more religious. So a priori assertions such as Mark Steyn’s that Turkish secularism is doomed because the rural religious have outbred the citified secularists seem plausible. The WVS can help us answer this sort of question.

For example, if the religious are outbreeding the non-religious and religion is substantially heritable so as to counteract any rate of defection than younger age cohorts should be noticeably more religious, right? Are they in Turkey? I use Turkey as an example to illustrate how useful the WVS can be.

So first go to http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/

I’ve circled some areas red to click through.

Click the area where I’ve circled read. You need to jump through some hoops (it uses POST to go from page to page).

I’ve broken down the importance of religion as a function of age. There is no trend toward greater religiosity among the young.

I’ve now broken down by both and age & sex. As in most societies secularism is more pronounced with youth among males.

I went back and looked at another question in regards to the influence of religious leaders on voting. There is no trend of younger people being more supportive of this. There are plenty of other religion & government related questions you can ask. When Steyn made that assertion I made sure to remember to poke around Turkey’s WVS results, and they don’t seem to support it. The theory is coherent, but the facts do that match. I hope this is a lesson for readers. Theory provides free information. But since there are tools to check inferences one makes from assumptions one should do so before taking theory as a given (all the above took me 3 minutes, excluding screen capture & Photoshop).

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26 Comments

  1. it seems like the religious have the genetic advantage, but the non-religious have the cultural advantage. heritability won’t predict each successive generation’s degree of religiosity if there is a secular (in both senses of the word) trend away from it.

  2. I think I missed something. Do the more religious people in Turkey have more children? The lower income have more kids, according to the figures in a previous post, but the more religious? I looked at the screens, but didn’t see the connection. Can you point it out?

  3. If youth (like maleness) always reduces religiosity but fades with age, a society could continually get more religious even as the young were always less religious than their older contemporaries. Because the WVS has multiple waves though we can compare people of similar age-groups at different times.

  4. I think ben g has it. The secular are still picking off the young of the marginally religious. Eventually though I suspect that this will be subject to diminishing returns as those most genetically disposed towards conservative religion will simply ignore any secularizing indoctrination/propaganda they get from public education and the media. 
     
    I don’t think that the secular have much reason to fear the religious beating them by breeding, at least in the short to medium term, for the simple reason that the secular are still the overwhelming majority of the population. 
     
    Please note that secular != atheist or agnostic.

  5. In affluent parts of southwestern Turkey, headscarves are seen more on older women. I’m not sure if that’s true in Istanbul, though.

  6. If the religious outbreed the secular – which they do; and if religiousness is correlated with heritable psychological traits – which it is; then society will get more religious.  
     
    The only question is how quickly it will happen.  
     
    However, in Western societies, these effects of differential reproduction among the established population will almost certainly be overwhelmed by mass immigration – and mass immigration is currently mostly of more-religious populations than the host societies (especially in Europe and the UK).  
     
    So, Western society will be getting more religious, and pretty soon.

  7. The only question is how quickly it will happen.  
     
    please. spare me. religious people have been outbreeding non-religious for most of history i assume given the social profiles we know (the same stuff about religious outbreeding the non-religious was true in france in 1840). and the non-religious keep increasing as a fraction. as t -> ? you’re certainly right, but i really don’t care, that’s trivial. you seem to live in a world where dynamics are never cyclical. 
     
    So, Western society will be getting more religious, and pretty soon. 
     
    give me numbers. no qual, quant. in the long run we’re dead. you must have quantitative metrics in mind if you’re offering an opinion. percentages at time X based on particular parameters. 
     
    anyhow, for your information that’s not true of the USA. latinos are only marginally more religious, and asian americans are not. and australian immigration is strongly skewed toward asians who aren’t necessarily too religious (canada is a mixed bag, but again, the chinese). those are facts, not theory. the most secular nations in the world aren’t even western, they’re east asian.

  8. steve, 
     
    you can breakdown by region. i just did. there’s a much sharper age difference in the aegean than in instanbul. it looks like the young in the aegean are about as secular istanbul, but the older are considerably more religious.

  9. Razib said: “give me numbers” 
     
    There are plenty of “numbers” suggesting that Western societies will start become more religious soon, as a result of differential reproduction and mass migration; but these numbers come mostly from demographics rather than psychology – such researchers as Eric Kauffman http://sneps.net/RD/religdem.html, David Coleman http://www.spsw.ox.ac.uk/staff/academic/profile/details/coleman.html and and the Second Demographic Transition people http://sdt.psc.isr.umich.edu/.  
     
    It is not just theoretical: the reversal of secularism has already happened in Israel – e.g. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=4956 
     
    One could also factor in the research on the differential relation of IQ and religiousness, and the inverse relationship between IQ and fertility eg from Richard Lynn – http://www.rlynn.co.uk/ (including of course the heritability of IQ).  
     
    As TGGP said above, there is need to control for the life history facts of religiousness – that religiousness is lowest among teenagers and young single adults, higher in middle age especially with children. http://www.firmstand.org/books/spiritualmarketplace.html  
     
    Then there are assumptions about the political influence of different types of religion, of different degrees of devoutness, in setting a national agenda. The UK and European experience suggests that it may not be necessary to have a majority, nor even a large proportion, of Muslims for the religion to have a large influence upon national policy and social rules. 
     
    By contrast, my impression is that atheists and agnostics seem to be individualists of low zeal and even less communitarian or altruistic tendency; including a tendency to accomodate to persistent dissent, or to move away from problems rather than stay and fight them; so that secularists seem to have much less political influence than would be expected from the numbers, or their high average intelligence and socio-economic position.

  10. X% of the children of the religious will be religious, while 100-X% will beocme secular. Y% of children of seculars will be secular while 100-Y% will become religious. Even if the number of children of the religious is greater than the number of children of the secular, this will lead to a stable state where some percentage is religious and some percentage is secular.  
     
    Saying that religiosity is heritable means that X and Y will be high, but as it is not completely heritable, cultural conditions can cause variation in both X and Y.  
     
    Dividing up the population into only two baskets is probably an oversimplification, as there are people who are weakly religious and strongly religious, as well as weakly secular and strongly secular; I’d guess that that “strongly/weakly” lines up with a hereditary personality variable that doesn’t correlate with actual religiosity. Add to that the differential impact of cultural conditions on people of different levels of zeal, and it gets messy quickly. For example, moving to the city probably makes some weakly religious become weakly secular and some become strongly religious, while the seculars are more likely to drift more secular, while some strongly religious will become strongly secular and vice-versa.

  11. There are plenty of “numbers” suggesting that Western societies will start become more religious soon, as a result of differential reproduction and mass migration; but these numbers come mostly from demographics rather than psychology – such researchers as Eric Kauffman http://sneps.net/RD/religdem.html, David Coleman http://www.spsw.ox.ac.uk/staff/a…ls/ coleman.html and and the Second Demographic Transition people http://sdt.psc.isr.umich.edu/.  
     
    you know some history, don’t you? my point is that the theory which predicts the death of secularism should have predicted the death of secularism generations ago in europe. it isn’t as if secularism doesn’t have a history in europe going back to voltaire. if it can’t predict the past, do you perhaps wonder if perhaps it can predict the future? 
     
    As TGGP said above, there is need to control for the life history facts of religiousness – that religiousness is lowest among teenagers and young single adults, higher in middle age especially with children. http://www.firmstand.org/books/ s…arketplace.html  
     
    you’re looking at projections again. for you, projections = facts, not theory. perhaps that’s the problem. i’m well aware of the implications of current facts. i just know a lot of history, and the arguments you’re making would hold in 1840 in france, which was going through demographic collapse and hysteria among the anti-clericalists as to the greater fertility of the religious. france should be the most religious of europan nations seeing as how the urban majorities were demographically stagnant, and catholics and religious polish and italian immigrants were immigrating into the nation. as for israel, yes, projecting the number of arabs and haredi does give you these numbers. but it doesn’t take into account contigencies like the massive influex of secular russian jews in the 1990s which increased the proportion of non-religious in the population a fair amount. your projections are always based on what you know, not what you don’t know, and doesn’t capture the amount of uncertainty. 
     
    Then there are assumptions about the political influence of different types of religion, of different degrees of devoutness, in setting a national agenda. The UK and European experience suggests that it may not be necessary to have a majority, nor even a large proportion, of Muslims for the religion to have a large influence upon national policy and social rules. 
     
    i am no longer persuaded by this argument. i can see where it comes from. but suffice it to say i know a fair amount about the history of religion. christianity was *not* a slave religion. religions of the lower or dependent classes tend to be marginal factors over the long term (look at the number of baptists vs. episcopalians in the USA senate vs. their general numbers). the future could be different of course, but our future expectations should be contingent upon what has occurred in the past. this would be *sui generis* 
     
    so that secularists seem to have much less political influence than would be expected from the numbers, or their high average intelligence and socio-economic position. 
     
    right, look at the french revolution or the relationship between church & state in 19th century italy. or the fact that there is still prayer in american schools despite the fact that the majority of the population opposes it ;-) or the general lack of popularity of marxism and its inability to coordinate as a world wide movement in the 20th century. 
     
    look, i too share that same general impression of atheists. but it is important to check inferences of micro level behavior upon macro level behavior with actual macro level behavior. the data sets are out there.

  12. > religious people have been outbreeding non-religious for most of history i assume given the social profiles we know (the same stuff about religious outbreeding the non-religious was true in france in 1840).  
     
    France in 1840 doesn’t persuade, because it stands against almost the entire march of history – we’re talking about the world headquarters of irreligion as it existed a few generations after the death of Voltaire, after the secular US Constitution, de Cloots’ stepping forth as a “personal enemy of Jesus,” and Jefferson’s paring supernatural events from his copy of the divine word with a scissors. Scroll back to 1650 and phenomena like those practically never exist – I’m not even sure what “non-religious” would mean in that day, which is only more true of 1200 and most other times and places I have any grasp of (usually a very modest grasp, and certainly much lesser than yours).  
     
    Perhaps(?) irreligious people existed in numbers in imperial Rome – and if you believe the bible, in Babylon and Sodom, though I wonder if eccentric, fire-passionate ancient jewish railers and ravers didn’t have a pretty yawningly broad notion of “irreligion.” But I suppose few people lived in large cities like those, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the hicks in the sticks were almost all pious…? Lord knows their piety is higher in today’s USA at least. I’m sure you know in some detail whether that pattern holds elsewhere. 
     
    Maybe the stoics verged on irreligion? I’d say. 
     
    And since cities were sinks, I admit that does make a quite interesting point in favor of the non-religious being less fit – if indeed they were commoner in cities.  
     
    I’m afraid I can’t speak to the East, so it’s not in the scope of what I’m contending. 
     
    The Greeks had prominent atheists and doubters – but then, they were the most divergent people ever to have lived. 
     
    In sum I doubt one can quantify non-religious persons in almost any places before AD 1500. I’m sure variation in piety often privately existed, but just how can one can really get a quantitative or qualitative handle on it?

  13. France in 1840 doesn’t persuade, because it stands against almost the entire march of history 
     
    huh? france is the first nation which had a large number of organized secularists. so we have the longest time frame to project the death of secularism. i’d like to have some more N’s, but as you said, we don’t have much to work with. 
     
    Scroll back to 1650 and phenomena like those practically never exist – I’m not even sure what “non-religious” would mean in that day, which is only more true of 1200 and most other times and places I have any grasp of (usually a very modest grasp, and certainly much lesser than yours).  
     
    irreligious people didn’t exist in *significant* numbers before 1800 arguably. 
     
    eric, christianity was a religion of the cities, fyi. paganism held on longest in rural areas. the differential patterns of fertility naturally explain why there are no christians around today :-) 
     
    The Greeks had prominent atheists and doubters – but then, they were the most divergent people ever to have lived. 
     
    atheism exists in most complex societies. dahrites in islam, carvaka in india, and the secular-materialist tendency in confucian thought exemplified by xun zi (there are forms of non-materialist atheisms in india, but i’m not including these). but these were not mass phenomena so it’s not worthwhile to talk about demographics, they were arguments among a tiny elite.

  14. and eric, my point is that france has gotten *more* irreligious. the secularist segment was a very motivated minority for much of its history. it might have been the world capital of irreligion after the french revolution, but this is only normed to international standards. french priests converted much of their empire to catholicism, and there were periodic swings back toward ultramontane tendencies. there has been a long term trend toward more irreligion between 1800 and 2000, but there were multiple cycles within the macrotrend. see Children of the Revolution: The French, 1799-1914 for example.

  15. you know some history, don’t you? my point is that the theory which predicts the death of secularism should have predicted the death of secularism generations ago in europe. it isn’t as if secularism doesn’t have a history in europe going back to voltaire. if it can’t predict the past, do you perhaps wonder if perhaps it can predict the future? 
     
    You’re making a good point, but IMHO its primary upshot is merely to shift the burden of proof somewhat back to BGC, which is not exactly a dialectical knockout. You are assuming secularism will continue to transmit quite well horizontally. BGC is venturing that it might not. I suppose the precedent from 1840-2000 is mostly on your side, but the world changes fast lately.  
     
    the future could be different of course, but our future expectations should be contingent upon what has occurred in the past. [non-marginal impact of a lower-class religion] would be *sui generis* 
     
    Sure, but isn’t that partly because higher fertility in a lower class may also be quite exceptional, if not necessarily quite sui generis? (I don’t know the data of course, I’m just regurgitating what I seem to recall learning from you.) And that exception – higher fertility in the lower class in question – is now happening, and it bears directly on the odds of that lower class’s religion making itself felt. The higher mean fertility and often-limited assimilationism of muslims in europe may or may not continue, but for now those are plain facts with a direct bearing on whether europe’s future history will be strongly influenced. Again, the world’s been changing fast lately – but on this point I think the precedent, for whatever a precedent is worth, probably favors BGC.

  16. You are assuming secularism will continue to transmit quite well horizontally. 
     
    no i’m not. let me be clear: i’m not making a positive argument about anything. i’m asking for those who make positive arguments to offer some numbers instead of vague generalities. i’ve looked at these numbers and the history, but i’m curious if other people really have or if they are just talking off impressions. 
     
    I suppose the precedent from 1840-2000 is mostly on your side, but the world changes fast lately.  
     
    how fast? what time intervals are we talking about? i’m not really willing to venture more than 100 years. is that what you’re talking about? 
     
    good point about the reversal in fertility patterns. 
     
    The higher mean fertility and often-limited assimilationism of muslims in europe may or may not continue, but for now those are plain facts with a direct bearing on whether europe’s future history will be strongly influenced. 
     
    what are the fertility rate differences and secularism rate differences? the proportion of muslims in each nation? since you’re offering opinions you have to have numbers in mind. tell me. bruce didn’t give explicit numbers but just pointed me to other peoples’ work. i assume you’re assessments are based on some concrete data.

  17. huh? 
     
    “March of history” was unclear. I meant to contrast France 1840 against all the pre-modern centuries and millennia – not against the period 1840-2000. 
     
    > the differential patterns of fertility naturally explain why there are no christians around today :-) 
     
    Touche. 
     
    Thanks for mentioning all those groups of wacky orientals ;) …I wasn’t aware of any of them, I’ll look them up. 
     
    Gnostics? Some of them might count as technically irreligious if they only believed in the evil YHWH/demiurge and not in the incomparable “alien god” beyond him – the thing is I can’t recall if any such ones existed. (I left off studying them because I didn’t find any of the Nag Hammadi scriptures too interesting.)

  18. “March of history” was unclear. I meant to contrast France 1840 against all the pre-modern centuries and millennia – not against the period 1840-2000. 
     
    sure. granted, we’re in a “new age.” as a reader pointed out me years ago, malthus’ logic was totally in keeping with the evidence he had. no one predicted the demographic transition, though there were already hints from france even during his lifetime. the point is that there’s a lot of uncertainty in these predictions, and even using the past 1.5 centuries does not to my mind really vindicate a lot of these predictions made now if you take their parameters and plugin in what was known at time t – X and compare it to what you see at time t. 
     
    eric, all the groups i mention were basically materialists. i.e., they rejected supernaturalism. some of them, for example the epicureans might accept gods but only as natural phenomena. buddhism to some extent resembles this insofar as gods are not as important as the concept of rebirth and what not, but buddhism has supernaturalistic elements. the groups i mention above reject supernaturalism. stoicism was pantheistic, but i think it is arguably totally naturalistic, though i know there are many variants.

  19. also, let me be explicit on something that is positive. i’m pretty sure that human social history as a function of time isn’t characterized just as transients between fixed states. there’s a lot of frequency dependence. and inevitable exogenous shocks tend to mean that equilibria are generally short-lived.

  20. Razib – to what extent is the (heritable) impulse to religiosity satisfiable in non-theistic ideological movements? How does that affect your view of the proportion of people who are “religious”?

  21. Razib – to what extent is the (heritable) impulse to religiosity satisfiable in non-theistic ideological movements? How does that affect your view of the proportion of people who are “religious”? 
     
    i think that secular ideologies can substitute to some extent. they don’t seem to have long term staying power though. e.g., the gods of communism are mortal and can’t live forever, so the psychological connection that believers make with their gods can’t persist over generations. unless they’re turned into supernatural immortal entities. 
     
    i think religion is defined by a set of parameters of various weights. there’s a big intersection between “political religion” and “supernatural religion” in terms of those parameters, but it’s not perfect. if i had to speak off the cuff it seems like political religions are good at mobilizing coherent elites, but they can’t really gain deep traction among the masses, who transform them into more normal religions. political religions seem to have less ability to evolve than supernatural religion because their axioms are specified in an explicit and distinct manner. that’s their advantage in the short term over supernatural mass religion for elites i suspect, but in the long term when they’re falsified they’re harder to reinterpret. i suppose you can claim that chinese communism falsifies this, but my understanding is that everyone in china is now giving lip service to marxist-leninism and don’t believe in it. in contrast, religious people in 1600 could sincerely believe that monarchy was the political arrangement which fulfilled their religious values to the greatest extent, while today similarly sincere religious people can accept that democracy is the political arrangement most in keeping with their deep values. 
     
    p.s. the preservation of the body of lenin is i think a really good window into the psychological similarities between political and supernatural religion, and now the former tends to slouch into the latter.

  22. as it is not completely heritable, cultural conditions can cause variation in both X and Y. 
     
    even with complete heritability it is possible for cultural conditions to cause variation over time. heritability != malleability. and it is possible for the heritability itself to change over time.

  23. i think that secular ideologies can substitute to some extent. they don’t seem to have long term staying power though. e.g., the gods of communism are mortal and can’t live forever, so the psychological connection that believers make with their gods can’t persist over generations. unless they’re turned into supernatural immortal entities. 
     
    but a “God” is not the prerequisite for fanaticism so much as a devil (e.g. capitalism). and can’t it be argued that the historical trend is actually away from religion when it comes to fanatical movements? throughout the 20th century, because of the spread of the scientific ethos, doctrines like nazism appealed to (pseudo)science in their ideas of racial supremacy.

  24. razib, 
     
    It’s a rarity to see you discussing this subject and not see anything I want to argue with! 
     
    However, I second ben g’s point. I suspect your low opinion of political religion may have something to do with an instinctive reluctance to include Western progressivism, or even more broadly democracy, in this category. Sure, political religion tends to fail, if your sample only includes the failures! 
     
    At least from a purely diagnostic standpoint, progressivism strikes me as quite healthy and vigorous. But you may have a different opinion. Do you see it jumping the shark in some way? For example, do you see environmentalism (as a political religion) as something with centuries, or decades, or years to live? Is it a permanent occupant of the brain’s religion module? Or will something else displace or replace it?

  25. but a “God” is not the prerequisite for fanaticism so much as a devil (e.g. capitalism). and can’t it be argued that the historical trend is actually away from religion when it comes to fanatical movements? throughout the 20th century, because of the spread of the scientific ethos, doctrines like nazism appealed to (pseudo)science in their ideas of racial supremacy. 
     
     
    seems like it. i don’t really know if you’re argument about fanaticism is right or not. but i do think that religion or god is not a prerequisite for fanaticism. i do think there are things that religion does better *over the long term* than secular ideologies. but secular ideologies seem good (at least within the last 2 centuries) at outmanouvering religion over the short term.

  26. hm. this post was about using WVS to look into data that might support or falsify assertions. the thread isn’t going in that direction, so i’m going to close it.

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