Kids, satisfaction, and scriptural literalism

By Razib Khan | July 10, 2011 10:54 pm

Bryan Caplan* found something interesting in the GSS:

People who believe in the Bible’s literal truth (BIBLE=1) are much more satisfied with their jobs than people who believe it’s just a book of fables (BIBLE=3)….

Relatively speaking, this is a huge effect. But what’s going on? It’s not just a disguised left-right effect; Biblical literalism crushes self-identified ideology in a multiple regression. And it’s not a disguised social support effect; Biblical literalism crushes church attendance, too. Marxists will no doubt claim vindication for their view that religion is the opium of the people. But you could just as easily conclude that traditional religion successfully teaches gratitude.

In my personal experience with the GSS the BIBLE variable, which asks rather awkwardly one’s stance toward the nature of the Bible, is one of the most powerful predictors of a whole host of social metrics. I suspect that scriptural literalism has very strong personality correlates.

One thing that’s rather amusing also is that Biblical fundamentalists are naturally skeptical of evolution, but they’re rather reproductively fit. Here’s the trend from the GSS:

And yet this is an illustration that fertility does not equal destiny. Look at the trend for the attitudes toward the Bible over the years:

* In case you care, Bryan Caplan is an atheist.


Comments (16)

  1. Darkseid

    Yeah, I’d be pretty excited about life as well if I believed I had an all-powerful being watchIng everything I did.

  2. bob sykes

    The GSS only goes back to 1972, and it is limited to the USA. So, I’m not sure that the trend lines are meaningful or that the Darwinian effect has had time to kick in.

    Let’s review this in 50 years.

  3. Darkseid

    You can have a great life if you believe you’re destined to have one. Also, maybe if you isolated the survey to a semi-religious country like Denmark it might not be the same percentages.

  4. Those sorts of differences in fertility between different ideologically-defined groups have been present for a while in most places.

    Fertility rates–in the past couple of centuries, at least–have tended to be significantly higher in rural areas than in urban areas, while until the great public health and urban planning successes of the 19th century North Atlantic death rates were higher in cities than in rural areas. Urban areas, it should be noted, have been more inclined to radicalism of one sort or another than rural areas: the French, Russian, and American Revolutions, for instance, began in urban areas.

    More to the point, differentials in fertility between different ideologically-defined groups in the same environment have been ongoing for a long time. I’m most familiar with the situation in France, where the same sorts of cleavages over religion described above have been present since the late 19th century, with conservatives in largely rural areas and urban ones alike having higher birth rates than radicals in rural and urban areas both. And yet, over the decades, the France that pioneered the modern demographic transition did _not_ become more conservative over time, rather the reverse.

  5. Andrew Lancaster

    Interesting. So it appears that the children of biblical literalists are most likely to disagree with their parents about the bible.

  6. Randy, Razib discussed just that process in France when responding to a different Bryan Caplan post here.

  7. jb

    The number of people who take a given position is influenced by more than just fertility; there is also conversion. What the flat trend lines say to me (as a partisan for the secular side) is that unbelievers have been winning the conversion battle (through superior argument and evidence), but believers have been winning the fertility battle, so the overall result has been stasis. If so, this means the effect of differential fertility, while less obviously visible, has still been powerful. If the fertility rates had been reversed, I think the BIBLE=1 side would probably have been totally marginalized by now, and the US would be a rather different place.

  8. Jim Johnson

    Just a thought: if a high number of jobs really are difficult for the employees (high stress, frequent frustration, little feeling of support), then the ability to believe something against all evidence might be prophylactic against job related depression and anger.

  9. Geack

    @ Jim Johnson –

    Good point. I’d add that it’s likely that those who base their understanding of reality on the Bible are likely less inclined to attach a huge chunk of their sense of self to their job, leading to less stress about it. When the real goal is the afterlife, how you earn your money is dramatically less important to a person.

  10. “People who believe in the Bible’s literal truth (BIBLE=1) are much more satisfied with their jobs than people who believe it’s just a book of fables (BIBLE=3)….”

    The motto of my local newspaper, that appears in the masthead each day, is: “There is no hope for the satisfied man.”

    It is entirely plausible that satisfaction is a product of low expectations rather than high achievement. Biblical literalists, having a rather parochial and uneducated worldview, don’t expect nearly as much. So, they are more satisfied as a result.

  11. AG

    Ignorance is bliss.

  12. . So, I’m not sure that the trend lines are meaningful or that the Darwinian effect has had time to kick in.

    no shit. you think i don’t know what a human generation is?

  13. Archduke

    The authors of the questions in the GSS are likely not familiar with the history of understanding the Bible, hence their poorly phrased questions (1 and 2). There are plenty of Christians (Catholics, Orthodox and some others) who believe that the Bible is the Word of God and does not contain any errors in moral or theological teachings, but not everything in the Bible is literally true. I am not sure question #2 adequately describes that view.

    The groups who believe that the Bible should be interpeted literally, word for word, is mostly confined to conservative Protestants. We should not expect them to have substantial numbers of children because all of the Protestant Churches, beginning in 1930 have endorsed artifical contraception. Although the Book of Genesis says “be fruitful and multiply”, pretty much all Protestants contracept at the same rate as non-believers. The chart above shows that they are barely above replacement rate.

  14. ackbark

    In both charts the trend lines for ‘Bible is the Word of God’ and ‘Book of Fables’ are heading in the same direction while ‘Inspired Word’ (the moderate position?) remains steady for fertility and declines in Belief in the Nature of the Bible.

    It suggests the populations of religious maniacs and others are increasingly segregated.

    As to job satisfaction, if you think life is just a rest stop on the highway to heaven you don’t have to worry much about what the job is or whatever else you might be doing.

  15. debra cole

    just a question- could it be that folks who believe the Bible is the literal word of God tend to have less sexual partners and therefore possible less STDs which can decrease fertility?

  16. Want to +1 Archduke’s and Razib’s comment. #2 simply defines a Catholic or Orthodox within Christianity, but the ordering makes one think that it is supposed to be targeting a progressive mainlaine protestant.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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