Fewer Religious Women, Fewer Children?

Fewer Religious Women, Fewer Children?

Does the fact that the world is becoming increasingly less religious correlate with the fact that fertility rates have plummeted worldwide?  In women, does irreligosity and childlessness go hand in hand?  If a study of women in the U.S. is any indication, the answer to that question might just be “yes.”

A three decade long study of women* (1982-2002) conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) gives us some interesting insights into fertility patterns.  The researchers note:  “Over the last three decades, the United States has seen a steady increase in the proportion of women who are childless at older ages.”  The study broke out childless women into “temporarily” and “voluntarily” childless.  The “temporarily childless” women have chosen to bear children later in life, their goal being “higher levels of education, more highly skilled careers, and more seniority in the workplace.”  Interestingly, the researchers suggest that “some will regret not having started childbearing earlier even if it would have meant curtailment of workplace attainment.”  We wonder what the feminist establishment had to say about that statement!

So what is the profile of the “voluntarily childless?”  They were disproportionately white, although the later data in the study showed African American women had “increased to be equivalent to their percents in the total population.”  Hispanic women, however, were “underrepresented among the voluntarily childless in all survey years.”  These “voluntarily childless” women, unsurprisingly, “stood out as having the highest percents working full time, even compared to the temporarily childless.”  This group was significantly more likely to be in “professional and managerial occupations” and had the highest individual and family incomes.  These women had chosen careers and success over motherhood.

It appears that these women haven’t chosen religion either.  The study shows a remarkably high percentage of voluntarily childless women “reporting no religious affiliation, never attending religious services, and reporting religion as not important in their daily lives.”

This is more support for what most of us already knew—religion and church attendance has a positive influence on women in regard to their desire to become mothers.  Correlation is not causation, but we feel pretty safe in saying that the current worldwide trend of increasing secularism will do nothing to stop the birth dearth.

*Joyce C. Abma and Gladys M. Martinez, “Childlessness Among Older Women in the United States:  Trends and Profiles,” Journal of Marriage and Family 68 (2006: 1045-1056)

5 Comments
  • Sage
    Posted at 20:47h, 28 April Reply

    Be more careful when you write women “chose careers and success over motherhood.” Perhaps you meant financial success. This phrasing seems to imply that one could not find success in motherhood despite that being their choice-although I am pretty sure that is not your opinion.

    Thanks for the informative article.

  • Linda
    Posted at 09:20h, 29 April Reply

    I’m not sure this is totally true. There are many Christian women who have remained single, trusting in God’s wisdom and timing. For those that are non-believers, most are not feminist activists, just women trying to live responsibly and contribute to the world, all the while looking and hoping to find a good mate with whom they can raise children. As a believer, your chances are much better that you will fulfill that longing and live the full life God meant for you to have as well as an eternity with the lover of our souls!

  • United Families International
    Posted at 11:44h, 01 May Reply

    Linda, Your point is well taken. There are many women who want to be married and start a family, but have not had that opportunity. This is certainly not meant as an indictment of women who are “trying to live responsibly and contribute to the world, all the while looking and hoping to find a good mate with whom they can raise children.” The article meant to point out the increasing number of women (many of them irreligious) who have intentionally chosen to remain childless throughout their lives.

  • Lilith
    Posted at 14:27h, 21 September Reply

    Women want opportunities just as men do. Men should pick up the slack in child rearing so that both genders can find fulfillment in and out of the home. Both my husband & I work full time, had children in our late 30’s and our children aren’t in daycare. We found well paying jobs – one during the day, one during the evening. AMAZING how it all came together because we both wanted a family and success and we have that. That’s what this secular feminist thinks whose 14 year marriage has lasted longer than the majority of her religious friends, many of whom where taking prozac so they could deal with sole responsibility of their children; home and the loss of their dreams.

  • Catherine
    Posted at 17:21h, 13 July Reply

    Not sure about US but in Europe, those countries where traditional gender roles are influenced by religion (mainly Catholicism) the fertility rate is lower because women have no support for rearing children whilst maintaining careers – consequently, women choose careers or to delay motherhood until they are in their late 30s / early 40s. Countries who encourage women to combine work and motherhood have the highest fertility rates.

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