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Playing the Long Game in the Culture Wars
In the end, strongly religious people will win the culture war because they have babies and those babies do not grow up to be atheists. Between 70% and 75% percent of the children of Evangelicals do not leave the faith when they grow up. With an average birthrate of 2.5 kids per woman, that means that Evangelicals will be a growing segment of the white vote over the coming decades and will gain modestly over all, even assuming the kind of immigration foreseen in the comprehensive immigration reform bills of the last decade or so. Moreover, evangelicals are effective in evangelism, getting nearly 11% of their members from adult conversions, and the retention rate for conversions is very high. So, going into the future, Evangelicals grow and do not shrink. Right now, American’s elementary schools are filled with far more religious people than they had with the Millennial generation. If demography is destiny, as the Democrats say, liberals are in a for a rude surprise starting around 2030.
Who else is benefiting? Mormons gain very little from evangelism but they have lots of children and have incredibly high retention rates. In the early 20th century, Mormons were just 40% of the population in Utah. Now, it is 58%. Over the next decade or so, Mormons will make the purple states of Colorado and Nevada a bit more red. This is all form Mormons having a lot of children who stay Mormon.
Who is losing the demographics game? Mainline protestant churches. They are having fewer children and their retention rate for their children is only 50%. All the groups that grow from evangelism — especially the secular “nones” (who grow more from evangelism then any other group in the United States) and Evangelicals — take from Mainline Protestants, liberal Catholics, and immigrants. That’s one reason why so many evangelical leaders like open or nearly open borders. So, when you hear about social conservatives getting older, what they are talking about is the Jimmy Carter voter who always thought the idea of Same Sex marriage was icky is getting older and dying.
The secular Millennials are still a growing part of the population, and the Nones will continue to grow over the next couple of decades, but will top out around 17% of the population before declining. By 2030, we will most likely be a majority pro-life country with a growing evangelical population — 30% or so — with a cohort of young voters who are religious and grew-up in homes where they felt as if their parents were under siege from secular culture.
What I want to know is how does the Republican party need to prepare for this while remaining electorally effective now? Some good things will start to happen for us in twelve years or so, but we need to win right now too.
I think that the Republican party would be wise to not jettison social issues but continue to make social conservatives feel welcome. Make as much progress as they can in the states on winning cultural war battles and make religious freedom a hallmark and litmus test in the party much like abortion and gun rights are now. Hone our attacks over the next three or four election cycles on economic issues, limited government causes, and liberty issues while cultivating a farm team of religions conservatives. By doing this ahead of the demographic shift, we position ourselves to reap huge dividends politically in the future.
I think we also will get a chance to break open the African American vote due to the Democrats secular overreach. As African Americans start to feel marginalized in the Democrat party — and see their ministers called intolerant and driven away from politics — Republicans may have a chance of making common cause with African Americans on social issues and religious freedom issues. At the very least, we’ll have that opportunity long before we get a chance to change their minds on economic issues. In the long term, we have a lot of reason for hope on the culture war.
Eric Kaufman’s book Shall the Religious Inherent the Earth inspired this post. I highly recommend this book. You can read more about it here, here, and herePublished in Culture, Religion & Philosophy
Interesting take and I love a good demographic bore discussion. It’s like Mark Steyn says, the future belongs to those who show up
Ann Coulter per her viewpoint on the flagship podcast would argue that illegal immigration is what is countering that trend since we are getting a different type of immigration post 1970.
The assumptions I go with in the post is that immigration goes the way the Wall Street Journal the Democrats want it to go. Evangelicals gain strength from immigration form Mexico and all points south. Hispanics tend to like big government even when they become Evangelical but they become socially conservative.
The Catholics get more of a mixed bag. Some Hispanics coming here will tend to tow the Catholic line on abortion, perhaps, and become more socially conservative others continue to ignore the moral teachings of the church and stay pro-big government. However Hispanics on the whole don’t like attacks on the Catholic church and we will find allies there for religions freedom. It seems to me that over all the Catholic vote, in so far as you can even speak about a Catholic vote, will remain more or less unchanged.
Ann Coulter on the Flagship was focusing on the South American love for big government and I think she is right about that.
From the OP: “What I want to know is how does the Republican party need to prepare for this …”
<cynical hat on>Does anyone here actually think that the Republican Party recognizes/acknowledges any time horizon beyond the next election? </cynical hat off>
That is exactly my fear. I am afraid that the Republicans will look at things from only on election cycle at a time and alienate the people they will need in the future. In doing so I am afraid they will be ill placed to capitalize on future Democrat weakness.
Very interesting analysis, and I totally agree–listen up GOP. Look to the future and prepare for it.
BW: Thanks for the good news!
I’m one of the 11% of Evangelicals who were adult converts. I have 4 kids, all being raised in the faith. My impression is that, if anything, a birthrate of 2.5 for Evangelicals is low. In my circles, at least, the average is probably a bit over 3 — 3 kids is the norm, and there are more families with 4 or more than there are with 2 or fewer.
My impression is that it took Evangelicals a while to wake up to the Leftward shift of the education establishment. We’re now much more careful about keeping our kids out of “guvmint” schools, especially in their younger years, and teaching them that the values of the general culture are bad.
What we really need to do is avoid sending our kids for Left-wing indoctrination at college.
There is evidence that the birthrate among evangelicals is rising. So your evidence from your friends could very well be true. Seculars are doing about 1.67 children and hard core atheists do about .98 children so even if the average is hovering around 2.5 we will make gains. If it goes as high as 3 per woman the overall percentage of Evangelicals in this country will grow dramatically over the next 30 years. I think you are also right about the growing tendency of Evangelicals to educate their own children. That is a very big deal. I am glad my post gave you some encouragement.
I think parochial education is going to grow as well. If my kids were young now Id find a parochial option.
Good post, this is heartening news. I think that charter schools offer a unique option to those who don’t want their kids in govt schools. Some charters are horrible, and some are just as liberal as public schools, but some work hard to teach character and conservative principles.
The big issue is that the GOP tends to listen to the center a bit too much. You have to win the swing votes, but the last several elections cycles have shown the risk of winning the middle and losing your deep votes. We have to build a big tent.
We need to think about a little bit like Reagan. We forget how liberal the Republican party was before Reagan came to power and how he was building his coalition for for 20 years before he was elected. He land the ground work for future victories. After the domestically liberal Nixon years and then the Ford administration followed by the Carter groundswell we might forgive Reagan if he had despaired. But instead he fought on and reaped a big political harvest. I think we are now in a position to prepare the ground for a future harvest and we don’t have to sacrifice the current elections for it. I just hope there are some Republican strategists and politicians thinking about the future.
I hope you’re right. I used to think this myself, but the institutionalizing of bad cultural mores has a corrosive effect on everyone. Family structure is being destroyed, and it’s not just the non-religious. That 70% retention rate for the children of the religious is only a static picture. Look at Europe. Their religious aren’t swinging the trend in the other direction, even though they have a bit more children. I have to say I’ve grown pessimistic lately.
Those demographic patterns were the same 50 years ago.
This is one reason why liberals focus so much on stealing away the kids of those who are having them. Get them into pre-K programs or governmental daycares asap!
Religious freedom is one important thing, parental rights another. Almost every day I read about another family in danger of losing kids because they let them play unsupervised in a back yard or walk to the park. Just another mark of the insidious advance of the state, treating our children like its own presumptive wards, on loan to parents. That’s a problem.
It would be a change if they thought as far ahead as the next election. Boehner and McConnell certainly do not.
If the birthrate is 2.5 among evangelicals and 70%-75% of these children remain in the faith, doesn’t this mean that 2 christian parents, on average, create 1.9 evangelical children?
And wouldn’t you need something closer to 2.1 evangelical children to remain at a constant population?
It would seem to indicate that our current religious demographics will probably remain fairly constant for another generation or two. this, of course assumes there is no massive immigrant influx.
This echoes what has been said in a couple other comments, but I think focusing on demographics alone as a source of comfort forgets how other institutions perpetuate cultural decay. Liberalism of the cultural or political variety is like the xenomorph – it may not reproduce on its own, but it’s more than capable of taking on new hosts who aren’t properly equipped or defended.
To the larger point about what the Republican party should do, I like the idea of cultivating a farm team of religious conservatives. Even now, I think some spine among socially conservative politicians would go a long way, as opposed to caving to the fifteen minutes of social media backlash.
There is truth to what you say and that is why the mainline is now dying and there are a lot more conservative Christians than there once were. Remember there were very, very few conservative Christian churches in the 1930s and 40s. We have grown the mainline is shrinking and is now actually dying off. The mainline dying off will hurt the liberals more than us because it was the main line protestants that had the babies that grew up to be liberals.
Now the liberals are not having babies and there isn’t any strong evidence that there is a collapse in retention rates for Mormons or Evangelical Christians or Orthodox Jews. that is is what is different.
I think that Republicans need to make issues like you point to here hills to die fighting on, politically anyway. It is important that Republicans really do fight for the autonomy of the family because in the long term that means future voters grow up thinking of the Republicans as the party that fought to protect them.
I know it is interesting but if you factor out the Southern Baptist convention the evangelical birth rate jumps up. Some conservative protestant sects are average five kids per woman! So the trend will be to make Evangelicals more conservative over time. Then you are not factoring in adult conversion which puts the evangelicals above the replacement rate. It should also be noted that not every evangelical that leaves the church become a political liberal. Finally unless something changes the projected growth over the next couple of decades is only 2% so but that is a far cry from shrinking and dying out as many assume we are doing.
This is a really key point. For instance if the churches stopped teaching about traditional marriage or taking pro-life stances the demographics will not help us at all. The picture I am trying to paint is that if keep the faith, even if it just political faith, in the not too distant future things look brighter for us. If we abandon the fight now because it is hard then we sacrifice future success for present tactical victory I don’t think that is wise.
Good job with the math. The OP also says that about 11% of evangelicals are converts, so we could estimate that for every 8 kids raised in the faith, there will be 1 additional convert. The math then becomes:
2.5 * .75 = 1.875 * 1 1/8 = 2.11
2.5 * .70 = 1.75 * 1 1/8 = 1.97
You’re right, that looks more like stability than demographic improvement.
Interesting; I didn’t know that Mormon concentration in Utah has increased. My assumption was that since Utah started out as a Mormon colony it had been decreasing from 100% in the 19th century to the ~60% it is now. Could you site a source?
I’d also be interested to know your basis for the claim that Mormon growth is mostly from child birth rates and not evangelism. In my experience, there is a lot of growth from conversion, through that’s more true outside of the US. If 11% membership from adult conversions is considered a high number, then it would be very surprising to me that the LDS Church doesn’t reach that level.
Brian, did you see this article on Christianity (or the lack thereof) in the UK in The Spectator? Interesting. Also sad.
I’m in a niche here in VA: I’m surrounded by very large (5 or more kids) mostly homeschooling families. I expected that would change when I converted to Orthodoxy–except that I’m in an almost entirely convert parish made up of former conservative, nondenominational evangelicals. So again, more huge homeschooling families.
A flea-on-a-tick-on-a-dog demographic, I know–but interesting nonetheless. :)
The one thing that might change your calculations is even if Evangelical Protestants are stable if all the other groups shrink more Protestants then grow in relation to them (which is what matters to us). Also I cited the low ends of the range of numbers retention rates grow up to 75% historically and the higher end of the conversion range is 14%. I think the 2% estimated growth is very plausible. Though the book I am citing for most of the numbers say the growth of the evangelicals as portion of the white vote alone will be more dramatic.
This is my fault. The conversion rates I am talking about are for America alone. I should have made that clear I apologize. World wide conversion rates for both evangelicals, broadly understood, are much higher and Mormons are through the roof. Taking in all Mormons in the world there are enormous numbers of Mormon converts. Also conversion played a huge role in the initial growth of Mormons in America. However lately the conversion rates of adult Americans to Mormonism is relatively low but Mormons have a very high birthrate and amazing retention rates for their children that contribute more to their growth.
The book I am using (Shall the Religious Inherit the Eart by Kaufman) sites Stark and Neilson and the book Rise of Mormonism.
He also cites T. B. Heaton “How does Religion Influence Fertility: the case of Mormons” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
To point out how American demography has caused a rapid growth of Mormonism. As to Utah I guess it depends on where you start counting. Utah started out nearly 100% Mormon but after the “Mormon War” and incorporation into the Union non-Mormon immigration into the State turned Mormons into a minority for a while but they grew from there. In first decade of this century they passed 70% of Utah again. Then more immigration has come into Utah from other states reducing Mormon population to just under 70%. What is remarkable is not that is fluctuation but that they keep growing back.
Finally I will mention outside the US Mormons have far more growth from evangelism but weaker retention rates and a lot more intermarriage that slows over all growth. Fascinating stuff and I thank you for the question.
Great article. I think his misreading is from looking at the peak of the demographic changes and not realizing that it is a peak but a floor. Britain is in worse shape because nearly all Christians were what we call mainline protestants and liberal Catholics. These populations do seem to collapse in the face of secularization. I think he is wrong about the disapperance of Christianity in Britain since more conservative protestant denominations, like Baptists, are holding firm and having babies but since those groups are starting from a small base they might not survive.
Finally your other point is a good one. You have a small group that has large families but your group is not the only one like that. As you add up the groups like yours all over the US they start to become a pretty big flea. Lots of things could change though evangelism could pick up, birthrates could increase by a full child, or both those things to go down demography is not really destiny. However I think it is important that we, conservative Christians, are in better shape then most liberals think and I think that the Republicans should be prepared to use that to their advantage.
What we have here is a remix from a 2010 book Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century by Eric Kaufmann. The book hasn’t made much of a stir. One of the reasons, perhaps, is that demographic trends are notoriously difficult to project.
A couple of years ago, in a five-star Amazon review, a reviewer, another (?) Brian with a religious right perspective, predicts “mass immigration from South America being a huge boon to evangelical churches” and “a new more religious age dawning” with “the Jewish vote and money becoming more and more dominated by socially conservative religious Jews.” Two years along, how are those predictions looking?
There’s already been a mass immigration from parts South, alright, but it’s being engineered leftward, and the churches involved are from the sanctuary movement. “A new more religious age” is most newsworthy in the rise of extremist domestic Islamists; and it is concern about the security of Israel (threatened by the Iranian theocracy) which is moving American Jewish community incrementally towards the GOP, though definitely not on social issues.
Kaufmann’s book is five years old, so I’m not surprised the reviews don’t mention the rapid rise in immigration from Asia to North America. Immigration from Asia should continue to soar, buttressed by the work ethic and aptitudes evident in that region.
There’s also no mention of rapid developments in bio-tech, and what unanticipated enthusiasm for reproduction may emerge when secular young adults can repair-and-replace their own vulnerabilities with various and sundry intellectual and physical powers. I haven’t read Kaufman, but unless he’s mentioned Asian immigration and bio-tech, he may have already missed two major population markers.
Isolated, cult-like fundamentalist sects are of interest to Kaufmann. I would counter that the media environment will make isolation of any kind a declining global and domestic trend. Fundamentalists in isolated clusters can no longer screen out the world for very long, nor can any other concerned parents in our part of the world.
As for fundamentalist sects, yesterday’s cult is today’s religion, socialized by the world (and in rare cases transforming the world) but ever transforming and evolving, in the best cases away from blind belief and hopefully towards practical ethical norms and guideposts for living. Early in the cycle religious belief pushes for larger families, but eventually economics, social class, and individual choice have their say, too.
Consider American Catholicism over the last four generations. From 100 to 50 ago, there was a strict theology with a powerful mystical element; massive political influence; extensive, highly structured and centralized social services; and control over every element touching on family life and everyday values.
What percentage of the grandchildren of those generations — today’s 51-69 aged boomers — have passed on a similar, equally fundamentalist structure to believing children and grandchildren? Not everyone, or else the pews would be filled and the schools booming like they were in the 1950’s. What are the national numbers, split among the secular fallen away; the “lite” Church-goers; and those who continue to be as religiously-observant and belief-centric as their great-grandparents?
Secular and religion-lite voters are not necessarily political liberals, even though many of us share political common ground with liberals on some social issues. Your political coalition partners of the future are not going to be Islamic fundamentalists. They are not going to be a one-sided wave of devout immigrant believers from Latin America: that’s an old, outdated stereotype. (Loretta Sanchez replaced Bob Dornan representing Orange County CA in Congress almost 20 years ago.) Your coalition partners are going to be secular voters who agree with you on most things other than social issues.
All political issues are social issues.
Thank you, Rachel.
Readers might be interested in a fantastic organization called the Parental Rights organization, which is trying to get an amendment passed to guarantee the right of parents or guardians to control the education and healthcare for their children.
We need this.