USA Today reported last week that the United States "is taking baby steps forward" in terms of the fertility rate. According to the forecasting group Demographic Intelligence, the USA's total fertility rate is likely to increase to 1.90 per woman in 2013, up slightly from 1.89 in 2012. Last year's figure was the lowest recorded in 25 years.
"The United States has seen marked declines in childbearing in the wake of the Great Recession, but we think that this fertility decline is now over," Sam Sturgeon, president of Demographic Intelligence, told USA Today. "As the economy rebounds and women have the children they postponed immediately after the Great Recession, we are seeing an uptick in U.S. fertility."
Sturgeon, like many others, points to economic factors as the main driver of fertility rate fluctuations. Similarly, Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau said: "Historically, we've seen fertility trends move up and down with economic indicators."
But, wait just a minute. Economic factors certainly play a role in decisions about having children, but it hardly seems that economic factors alone can explain these fluctuations. After all, even in the bleakest of times human beings have decided to reproduce. It simply makes sense that worldview issues are also at stake.
To the credit of Demographic Intelligence, their report considered the factor of a woman's church attendance. As USA Today reporter Cathy Payne explained: "Among women aged 15-44, those who attend religious services weekly or more have 1.42 children, compared with the 1.11 children of women who rarely or never attend. Women who attend religious services weekly intend to have 2.62 children, and those who rarely or never go want to have 2.10 children."
So, there are other factors in play here. And church attendance is one that plays an identifiable role. As Sam Sturgeon commented, "Much of the downturn in births is related to economic factors, but economic factors do not affect the fertility decisions of all parents or future parents. We started to wonder about various groups that might make fertility decisions based on other factors, and religious persons seemed to be a natural group, so we explored this with the data."
He then added: "Partly because religious communities provide a family-friendly context to the women who attend them, religious women are more likely to have children and to bear a comparatively high share of the nation's children, compared to their less religious or secular peers."
Is anyone surprised? And yet, even as this report reveals that religious factors are in play in reproductive decisions, the influence of religion is explained only in terms of the fact that "religious communities provide a family-friendly context to the women who attend them."
Missing from this analysis is the factor of religious belief. There appears to be little recognition of the fact that what we believe about sex, marriage, and children has a great deal to do with the decisions that individuals and couples make.
In addition to the economy, previous studies have linked birth rates to geography, with so-called "red" states generally marking a higher fertility rate than "blue" states. But Christians know that the fertility rate is not just tied to how much we make or where we live—it is also tied to what we believe. Christians believe that sex, marriage, and the expectation of children go together as gifts of God such that parents should welcome every child and raise every child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
As recent cultural discussions have made fully clear, Americans differ on the meaning of children. Not everyone sees children as gifts to be received with great joy. But no other response will do when thinking in accordance with what Scripture clearly reveals. While it is undoubtedly true that congregations offer a family-friendly context that supports parents and parenthood, that context is surely formed and the children in them nourished by the joy and thanksgiving of parents and the beliefs that the congregation holds and teaches.
In other words, worldview matters.
Cathy Payne, "Baby Boom: Fertility Rate on Rise in U.S.," USA Today, Thursday, August 1, 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/08/01/usa-total-fertility-rate/2590781/