Who shall inherit the earth?

By Razib Khan | August 15, 2012 10:44 pm

There was a question below in regards to the high fertility of some extreme (“ultra”) religious groups, in particular Haredi Jews. The commenter correctly points out that these Jews utilize the Western welfare system to support large families. This is not limited to just Haredi Jews. The reason Somalis and Arabs have fertility ~3.5 in Helsinki, as opposed to ~1.5 as is the norm, is in part to due to the combination of pro-natalist subcultural norms, and a generous benefits state. Of course we mustn’t overemphasize economics. Israel’s decline in Arab Muslim fertility but rise in Jewish fertility in the 2000s has been hypothesized to be due to different responses to reductions in child subsidies by Muslims and the Haredi Jews. In short, the former reacted much more strongly to economic disincentives in relation to the latter.

A bigger question is whether exponential growth driven by ideology can continue indefinitely. I doubt it. Demographics is inevitable, but subject to a lot of qualifications. Haredi political power in Israel grants some benefits, but at the end of the day basic economics will serve as a check on the growth of the population of this sector. Similarly, barring massive productivity gains we’ll see some structural changes to the provision of government services across the aging developed world.

Below are some fertility numbers from the GSS. You see the median number of children for non-Hispanic whites born before 1960 from the year 2000 and later. I’ve compared the demographics of fundamentalists, non-fundamentalists, and those who are skeptical of the revealed nature of the Bible.


Attitudes toward Bible and median fertility
Word of God Inspired Word Book of Fables
No College 2.58 2.29 2.17
College 2.21 2.05 1.65
Mean real income, indexed to 1986
$0-$15000 2.63 2.27 1.97
$15001-$30000 2.50 2.19 2.00
$30001-$50000 2.28 2.29 1.92
$50000> 2.53 2.11 1.85
WORDSUM (vocab test) score
0-4 (dumb) 2.71 2.08 2.23
5-8 (average) 2.54 2.26 2.07
9-10 (smart) 2.58 2.07 1.69

These data imply to me that the secular are getting idiocratic faster than the fundamentalists.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Data Analysis, Demographics
MORE ABOUT: Demographics, Fertility
  • Anthony

    My wife and I are a lot like the childless couple from these movie clips, except we’ve decided we are probably never going to have kids. Sometimes I feel guilty about helping create an idiocracy, but then I remember evolution is a non-directional process. Besides, a lot can happen in the next few hundred years (not even a blip in evolutionary time) and intelligence may yet prove to be adaptive. Or stupidity. Or cruelty. Or humor. Or toe-hair. Or Whatever.

    In the end I’m just an animal doing my thing. If it’s not adaptive, it’s not adaptive. I still had a hell of a good time.

  • Dwight E. Howell

    The Amish are doing well. They are a rapidly growing religious group that avoids government support.

    The college educated book of fables crowd isn’t making replacement and is heading for extinction. In Darwinian terms they appear to be a failure.

    You used the phrase Bible but would assume the term anti-theist might be more appropriate. The majority of of theists aren’t Christians.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    I’ve wondered lately how much of the evolving group norms among the highly-educated for avoiding childbirth until late in life, and having few children, are simply due to peer effects.

    E.G., initial cohorts of highly-educated secular people may have had some real reasons for delaying childbirth (for example, those getting PHDs). But now even those stuck in dead-end “professional” jobs think they need to delay childbirth because it’s what all their friends are doing. Worse, having kids young is something poor people, and religious nutsos do!

    Similarly, they want to stop at one child, or at most two, because educated women with more children are seen as vaguely creepy. I recall at a party someone with three sons said she considered having a fourth child to try and have a daughter, but decided that would be “live in a compound in the woods” territory.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #3, i’ve seen the same social norms. 3 is a lot. >3 makes you “wonder” about people :-)

  • Gil

    @3 there’s also the idea of wasting one’s education: if you have a whole bunch of kids and go part time, why’d you spend all that time in college?

  • Karl Zimmerman

    5 –

    Personally, I spent all that time in college because I liked learning. I understand that’s not the norm though, and being a house-husband is unlikely for me.

    Still, my wife and I have had a lot of discussions about this. She doesn’t like her job too much, but it was her second profession (she was an engineer and went back to school for architecture), and she feels that even taking a few years off of work would set her back too much. Despite hating the work she does (and the paychecks after day care barely being worth it), the salience of the identity as an architect and a professional is so high she’d rather be unhappy doing what she’s invested so many years of her life into.

    This makes little sense to me, as when you retire, you put all of your work behind you, but you still have children and grandchildren. Work is what you do to survive, not your identity, even if you are lucky enough to love your job.

    Still, I think you’re onto something. Humans by nature have different group identities of shifting salience. I think a “professional” identity is particularly insidious, because the time commitment historically precluded having a close relationship with your children. When professionalism was the dominion of males, who in many societies largely ignored their children in childhood, this wasn’t a huge issue, but it really is hard for two people who both identify as “professionals” to keep their careers going and have largish families, unless they are wealthy enough to hire nannies.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #6, great point about professionalism. one of the positive things about women moving into professions IMO is that there is a genuine push for reasonable hours. i don’t think there’s THAT MUCH productivity beyond a certain point, and it’s wasteful signalling.

  • Anthony

    btw… there is also this 2012 Hans Rosling Ted Talk on Religion and Babies:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_religions_and_babies.html

  • http://jaymans.wordpress.com/ JayMan

    I’ve discovered much the same thing, especially with respect to political alignment:

    Liberalism, HBD, Population, and Solutions for the Future | JayMan’s Blog.

    I will add that a lot of educated women, especially those on the Left side of the spectrum, feel that they have a responsibility to put off child birth to curb “overpopulation”, as if intelligent, educated people were the root cause of that. It’s somewhat painful for me because I know more than a few personally…

  • Chris

    I remember discussing this when I was in college. We were so smart, but couldn’t figure out how to reproduce. Sure we knew the mechanics, but the dance that is love continues to elude us.

  • Dan H

    Hans Rosling’s TED talk was lies heaped upon more lies. He claims that religiosity has no impact on childbearing but nothing could be further from the truth.

    Statistically there are a few giant predictors of fertility, being religiosity, national wealth (inverse) and woman’s education.

    Within nations and among nations, the relationship between religiosity and fertility is strong. No secular nations are above replacement (unless you count Israel as secular). Many religious nations are above replacement.

  • Tomarz R.

    Having a low number of children by high-IQ group is actually good for it’s members. It assures rarity of their skills, and thus relatively high salaries. Spamming the world with hordes of children who inherit their talents would be disadvantageous to such people on a job market, might even lead to them being unemployed in the future due to the competition from the next generation.

  • Hallie Scott Kline

    I would think regression to the mean “assures rarity of their skills”…

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #12, jobs rely on institutions. imagine you’re a materials scientist and everyone else is an illiterate peasant. you have a corner on the market in skilled engineers. but there is no market because everyone else is an illiterate peasant bartering :-) go to the plough thee!

  • chris w

    #11: Iceland has an at-replacement fertility rate, and Ireland has a near-fertility rate. Ireland has above average church attendance rates by western standards, but Iceland has lower than average rates. Look at the church attendance rates per European country listed here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_attendance Southern and Eastern European countries have higher church attendance rates *and* lower fertility rates than Northern European countries.

  • http://www.rishon-rishon.com David Boxenhorn

    Years ago I argued that the religious would end up being smarter than the non-religious due to selection. IIRC, only gc agreed with me, and then only under certain scenarios.

  • http://jaymans.wordpress.com/ JayMan

    #15: Iceland may benefit from a relatively high rate of inbreeding, which is partly the case thanks to its geographic isolation. But there is likely one more important factor.

    Ireland has a high fertility rate thanks, in part, to its relatively religious populace. But it also currently undergoing repopulation. For higher average-IQ populations, when unoccupied land abundant, fertility is high; when it is not, fertility is low. One can see this in action by comparing the population density of Europe with the fertility rate there (with the caveat that noted fertility includes non-European immigrant births, especially in places like the U.K.). This is as predicted by my hypothesis described in the link in my previous comment.

  • http://jaymans.wordpress.com/ JayMan

    #15: Iceland likely benefits from a relatively high degree of inbreeding, which results, in part, from its geographic isolation. But there is another, more important factor likely at play.

    Ireland has a high fertility rate thanks, in part, to its relatively religious populace. But Ireland is also currently experiencing repopulation. For high average-IQ populations, when unoccupied livable land is abundant, fertility is high; when it’s not, fertility is low. You can see this in action by comparing the population density in Europe with the fertility rate there (with the caveat that some of this reported fertility includes non-European immigrant births, especially in places like the U.K.). This is as predicted by my hypothesis described in the link in my previous comment.

  • http://jaymans.wordpress.com/ JayMan

    Here are the maps from the previous comment, which I de-linked to get past the spam filter:

    European population density, 2008

    European total fertility rate, 2006-2008

  • Superfast Jellyfish

    As a smart, secular guy with three kids, I’d like to encourage the rest of you to get busy. Kids are tiring but fun, and thanks to TV, they practically raise themselves.

  • Tomasz R.

    #14 There has ALWAYS been technology wherever humans were present. Fueled by the demand for tools and weapons (in your example the talented guy would sell better ploughs to the peasants). There’s no indication that the demand will fall. Your possible place in the technology field jobs depends on what the competition is for the jobs. If there are too many people compared to the number of jobs you won’t get the job that fits your skills, as it is going to be taken by someone more talented than you, what will additionally mean he works at position below his abilities. And the way to create overcrowding on the brain-job market is having talented people multiply like rabbits.

    Of course there’s also opposite possibility – a fall of civilization because of lack of talent to sustain it. I’d bet that slightly below replacement rate of talented people itself doesn’t bring such danger. If would if it was close to zero though. Besides the closest to present danger of fall of civilization if from depletion of non-renewable resources (oil, minerals etc.), to which high reproduction rate is an accelerator. Especially for talented people who use more of them thanks to their higher wealth.

  • RedZenGenoist

    Is there anyone here for whom it is not persuasive that:

    a) idiocracy selection is fairly slow, while
    b) Gattaca (embryo screening) is going to start ca. 1 generation from now, and
    c) Gattaca (embryo screening) is going to rapidly accelerate, and almost immediately become far more powerful than idiocracy selection?

  • wijjy

    Got to agree with #20 here (I have three). You can have lots of kids as a secular family, but you need to get rid of the secular religion that providing a perfect environment is completely necessary for your children. But get going, fertility drops for women and you don’t have the same energy for wild kids as you get older…

    And the idea that >3 is weird for secular professionals is not the case everywhere. Three and four kids are normal for professionals in the UK and two is not really cutting it in some circles.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    Tomasz –

    I see a major issue with your first argument about parents restricting their offspring so they have less competition – evolution doesn’t work in terms of cartels. If anything, you’d expect a tragedy of the commons type situation, where all the richer parents tried to have lots of kids so that their own offspring had as high of a percentage of the pie as possible. After all, if you cannot control the breeding behavior of your neighbors, you have no reason to restrict your own.

    More generally, from what I know higher IQ leads to increased job performance everywhere. So while in a smarter society you’d expect people of a given intelligence to have slightly less prestigious professions, you’d also expect they’d be able to be more productive in those positions, meaning higher wealth across the entire society. Maybe if the average manual laborer had an IQ of 115, we actually could get by with shorter work hours.

    I’d think the bigger concern, however, would be discontent. There have been arguments that the reason why industrializing societies go through an initial period of unrest, and then quiet down, is because “social democracy” creates a natural meritocracy which eliminates working-class leadership. In early industrial development, a lot of poorer people will happen to be smart and capable, but end up in terrible jobs due to circumstance. Some will be drawn towards becoming labor leaders. As time passed, labor movements became strong enough to create a meritocratic structure, ensuring those who are smart in the working class could go on to higher education, and become middle-class themselves. Hence the working class was largely emptied of those who were mentally overqualified for their work. I’m not sure the U.S. became meritocratic enough to make the full transition (and we continue to be leavened with new immigrants who come from less meritocratic nations), but I wouldn’t be surprised if many European countries did.

    Regardless, this is a troubling question – one Aldous Huxley dealt with – could a society of “Alphas” sustain itself? As we gain more genetic knowledge, ultimately I think the only choice is to bring everyone up or to effectively embrace a caste system. I’m optimistic that technological advances will eventually reduce “scut work” enough we won’t need crap jobs anymore. If we always do the conclusions hundreds of years from now are…unpleasant…because at some point the rationale for not boosting the intelligence of the underclass will go from “they can’t afford it” to “we can’t afford to make them smart.”

  • Anon for this

    I also want to chime in and agree with #20. I’ve got my fifth on the way, which will make one child for every graduate degree held between my wife and I. Read a little Bryan Caplan and relax as a parent.

    Commenters mentioning the importance of local culture are on to something. My wife complained a while ago (lobbying for another baby) that “all my friends have four!” I laughed, but she was right: we live in an expensive suburb filled with SAHMs with professional husbands. Many of the moms are former traders or other high-status professionals. Now they’ve got big families. Of course, this is an extreme example of self selection; you don’t buy houses here unless you have enough kids to make the extra costs make sense, and with one child private school is a more cost-effective route. But such high fertility groups of professionals really do exist.

  • Mark

    Kind of tangential, but I recently read that Iran was scrapping its government-funded family planning program in favor of a return to its previous pro-natalist policies. Should be interesting to see what effect, if any, this will have on Iranian fertility, which is presently below replacement. I’m not going to make any predictions, since I don’t know what percentage of Iranians rely on the government for their family planning, among other things.

  • Bebop

    I’ve got to agree with #20 and #23 – I have a wonderful job (interesting, unique, challenging, flexible), but it’s my kids (two so far) that make my day every day. Secular or not, so long as you don’t over-stress it, kids can be the best (and most tiring) part of life.

  • Optimist

    I know a person that works in a sperm bank, and they try to screen donors in such a way that donors are a bit above average. What they do is asking potential donors a couple of innocent questions about educational background and profession of work. I guess this process is more sophisticated in other countries. However, there is yet no genetic screening. How large impact does this screening have? I don’t really know, because I guess many people with fertility problems are academics themselves that should have started to have kids in their twenties instead of in tbeir thirties.

  • http://jaymans.wordpress.com/ JayMan

    To #20 and those responding to him, might keeping statistics in mind be in order? As seen on my blog, liberals and secular people tend to be less pro-natalist than conservatives and the pious. But these are statistical trends; there are plenty of exceptions on the individual level. Demonstrating that there is a general trend—like say secular people aren’t as inclined to children—has no bearing on YOU. You could be a leftist, atheistic, educated couple and still have a large brood of children. It’s just that such individuals are in the minority.

  • http://jaymans.wordpress.com/ JayMan

    #24: I don’t necessarily see a downside to society with exceptionally high average IQ. Sure, having an IQ of 140 wouldn’t mean quite as much in that society as it does in ours, but so? Such a society would be far more innovative than ours. New discoveries would lead to new opportunities, many that we probably can’t even imagine. That would lead to much more to do for the average man (who would likely get more out of it in such a world).

    The main limitation would be if there are physical limits to innovation. If all the low-hanging fruit has already been picked, that may make life somewhat difficult in this high-IQ society, as perhaps there would be less to keep people occupied. I doubt this to a degree (I do believe we are approaching a plateau on theoretically possible innovation though, but I think there is plenty of discovery left to be made).

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

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 http://www.razib.com

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