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The Future Of American Religion: Birth Rates Show Who’s Having More Kids

Just last month, a team of economists from Wellesley College and the University of Maryland published a working paper that focused on a peculiar puzzle facing the United States: declining birth rates.

More particularly, the team of researchers was trying to understand why birth rates continued to fall even after the economy was recovering from the Great Recession of 2007. Those economists concluded that one of the biggest factors was shifting priorities among younger Americans — away from raising children and toward career and travel aspirations.

But fertility is obviously incredibly multifaceted. The decision to become a parent is often one that is made with a number of factors in mind. Young adults have to consider their educational plans, the amount of income they would have available to pay for a child and how to handle childcare responsibilities once they become parents.

One factor that can have a tremendous impact on this decision is religion. Every major religious tradition on Earth encourages reproduction, and thus there can be a theological nudge for people to have children. But a local religious community can also make the decision easier for potential parents by offering up a safety net that can provide financial support or easy access to caregivers for babies and children in the congregation.

Clearly, it’s in the best interest of religious groups to encourage their young families to have children if they want to ensure the long-term viability of their traditions. It’s no secret that families with children are the easiest pathway to ensure that a church, mosque or synagogue will be able to sustain itself for decades to come. But which traditions are doing a good job of having children, and which ones aren’t? And what does that tell us about the future of American religion?

The Cooperative Election Study asked respondents if they were the parent or guardian of a child under the age of 18. The results of this single question offer a tremendous amount of insight into whether individuals have children and what age that is most likely to occur.

Read more at Religion Unplugged

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