Ending Demographic Winter: Go Back to Church?

Chart Showing Correlation Between Church Attendance and the Birth Rate

As I’ve pointed out previously, Demographic Winter appears to be here to stay in America. The most recent “components of population change” for 2013 from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the natural change in population (births minus deaths) continues its decline:

2011 — 1,481,360

2012 — 1,425,019

2013 — 1,412,009

The decline in natural change is due to both a decrease in births and an increase in deaths. As the boomers age, there is not much we can do about the ever increasing rise in the death rate–barring some major technological breakthrough that extends our life-spans.

Theoretically, the easiest and best way to tackle a declining natural change is to boost the birth rate. Yet, the persistent decline in the birth rate suggests this may be easier said than done.

One interesting correlation that has been much discussed is the connection between religion and the birth rate. So, I put together the chart above which reinforces this notion by looking at the relationship for the 50 states (minus Alaska and Hawaii). More specifically, it looks at the relationship between weekly church attendance and the birth rate.

As you can see in the chart, Utah, not surprisingly, anchors one end with both the highest birth rate and weekly church attendance. On the other hand, the three Northern New England states (Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine) have the lowest birth rate and weekly church attendance.

On a personal level, I see this in my small town in New Hampshire. Inside my Catholic church are several families with four or more children (including my own of course). Yet, when I go into the local Walmart, I rarely see families with more than 2 children.

From an economic perspective, this relationship does make sense. Religion essentially extends one’s time-horizon to include multiple generations–children, grandchildren, etc. However, from a secular viewpoint, children are a burden that detracts from “living life to the fullest”–after all, your short time on Earth is all you have. Therefore, children are more likely to be valued in a religious household and less valued in a secular household.

Assuming this correlation is real and not a proxy for something else, what has to happen to get Americans back into a pew? My guess is that it would take a major Christian revival that have often occurred from time-to-time in America’s past. Some thought the 9/11 terrorist attacks would spark the next revival, but it did not.

I don’t claim to know what will start the next Christian revival. All I can do is raise my own children in the Catholic Christian faith and hope that maybe one of them will help find the answer. They will need to since we apparently live at ground zero for Demographic Winter.